The Indonesian government talks a good talk on climate change, particularly relating to reducing deforestation. But does it walk the walk? Unfortunately, the reality falls far short of the rhetoric.
In 2010, Indonesia promised that by 2020 it would have reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 26% compared to “business as usual”. With international support, the target would be 41%. Indonesia has since weakened its targets. The country’s Nationally Determined Contribution, published in November 2016, a year after Indonesia saw huge forest and peatland fires, features a target of 29% emissions reduction by 2030 (or 41% with international support).
In its Nationally Determined Contribution, the government states that REDD will be an important part of meeting its targets. Indonesia has the third largest area of rainforests in the world, but is second only to Brazil in terms of the area lost each year.
Despite the US$1 billion REDD deal, agreed with Norway in 2010, so far Indonesia has failed to reduce its emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Between 2010 and 2015, Indonesia lost a total of 9.9 million hectares of tree cover. (Brazil lost a total of 14.4 million hectares during the same period.)
To many observers, 2007 seemed like a turning point for Indonesia’s forests. In December 2007, the 13th United Nations climate conference was held in Bali.
Earlier in the year, the Australian company Carbon Conservation had persuaded the governors of Aceh, Papua, and West Papua to sign an agreement committing them to reducing deforestation in their provinces. Carbon Conservation would sell the carbon credits generated by the reduced deforestation. Carbon Conservation started to set up a REDD project in Aceh, called Ulu Masen.
But it all came to nothing.
When I visited Aceh five years later, there was no REDD project. Anwar Ibrahim, a village leader in Aceh Jaya, told me, “We’ve never seen anything from REDD. It’s like the wind. We can’t see it, can’t touch it.”
Indonesia’s failure to address deforestation over the past decade is not only a failure to set up REDD projects. There are a handful of REDD projects in Indonesia, and there have been hundreds of workshops and meetings, along with publications, field trips, press releases, newspaper articles, discussions, protests and so on.
But it’s as if REDD existed in a parallel universe. REDD has failed to have any impact on the corruption and land grabbing that is behind an ongoing social and environmental crisis in Indonesia.
Politics and palm oil in Seruyan district, Central Kalimantan
The Gecko Project is an investigative journalism project established by the UK-based organisation Earthsight. Over the past nine months, together with Mongabay, the Gecko Project has investigated land deals in the district of Seruyan, in Central Kalimantan.
In November 2007, the week before the UN climate conference started in Bali, a meeting took place in Jakarta that illustrates dramatically how the REDD process in Indonesia has failed to address the causes of deforestation.
Arif Rachmat, the CEO of PT Triputra Agro Persada one of Indonesia’s biggest palm oil companies, had a meeting with Ahmad Ruswandi. During the meeting, Ruswandi sold Triputra a shell company.
The shell company had one asset: a license to create a vast palm oil palm plantation in Seruyan. The license was issued by Ruswandi’s father, Darwan Ali, the district chief of Seruyan.
This wasn’t the first or only shell company that Ruswandi sold, and neither was Ruswandi the only member of the family cashing in on the fact that his father could hand out licenses at will.
The Gecko Project found that only three oil palm licences were awarded between 1998 and 2003 in Seruyan. Darwan became Seruyan’s first district chief (bupati in Bahasa Indonesian) in 2003. In his first two years as bupati, Darwan issued 37 licences, covering a total area of almost 500,000 hectares.
Darwan’s deals in Seruyan were just a small fraction of what was happening in the rest of the country.
Indonesia has seen a massive expansion of the area of industrial oil palm plantations. In 2000, Indonesia had four million hectares of oil palm plantations. The figure now is 11.9 million hectares. Vast areas of rainforest have been destroyed. And Indonesia’s forests and peatlands have become one of the highest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.
This large scale land grab has provoked conflicts with thousands of communities across Indonesia. “Today people need land for their fields and smallholdings,” a villager told the Gecko Project. “But the land is all gone.” Communities continue to demonstrate, but they find themselves up against the government. “They’re in on it too.”
Central Kalimantan: Indonesia’s REDD pilot project
In May 2010, Norway and Indonesia signed a Letter of Intent for a REDD deal in Indonesia. Norway offered to pay US$1 billion to Indonesia, if the country could reduce its deforestation.
In December 2010, then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono selected Central Kalimantan as the REDD pilot province, as part of the Norwegian REDD deal. The province created a REDD+ Task Force, an Ad-hoc Multi-Stakeholder Team, a Safeguards Information System, and REDD+ Social and Environmental Standards.
Unfortunately, none of that made much difference to the rate of deforestation in Central Kalimantan.
In May 2011, Yudhoyono signed off on a two-year moratorium on new forest concessions. But the moratorium (which is still in place, having been renewed three times) includes a couple of gaping loopholes. The moratorium specifically does not apply to:
- Existing concessions or concessions that already “received approval in principle” from the Minister of Forestry.
- “National development” projects including: geothermal, oil and gas, electricity, land for rice and sugar cane.
When the moratorium was announced in 2011, Teguh Surya of Walhi (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) told the Jakarta Post that,
“The President ignored input from civil society who care about conserving forests and threw its support to big businesses, such as palm oil plantations.”
In 2015, Indonesia’s new president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo extended the moratorium, without strengthening it. Teguh Surya, now at Greenpeace, commented, “Of course we are disappointed with the president for simply extending the previous policy with no significant change.”
Forest loss within moratorium areas continued to increase in 2015 in all areas except Sumatra, suggesting that the moratorium had scant effect on forest protection.
Vidar Helgesen: The billion dollar man
In February 2016, Norway’s new climate and environment minister, Vidar Helgesen, travelled to Indonesia. He was accompanied by a journalist with the Financial Times, Pilita Clark. The Financial Times calls Helgesen “the billion dollar man”. On the flight to Jakarta, Helgesen told Clark that, “If Indonesia can save its forests, it will massively increase the chance of saving the world’s climate.”
But once he arrived in Jakarta, Helgesen acknowledged that Indonesia has not managed to reduce its deforestation:
“We would obviously have hoped things would have progressed more quickly. We haven’t seen actual progress in reducing deforestation.”
Helgesen and his team visited Kalimantan, including a visit to an oil palm plantation run by a subsidiary of Triputra Agro Persada. That’s Arif Rachmat’s company, who the Gecko Project reports buying a shell company from the son of the bupati of Seruyan district in 2007.
Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry put out a press release the day after a REDD-Monitor post went out with the headline, “Norway admits that ‘We haven’t seen actual progress in reducing deforestation’ in Indonesia”:
The Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya regrets a recent statement by Norwegian Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen, which discredits the Government of Indonesia. Helgesen expressed dissatisfaction with the perceived slow progress of the Norway-Indonesia partnership in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Helgesen’s comments were carried by the Jakarta Post Friday, 4 February 2016, and the article published on the REDD-Monitor website dated 3 March 2016.
The Norwegian government apologised for Helgesen’s comments.
But the reality is that Indonesia has failed to address deforestation. The Financial Times reports Helgesen as saying that, “We’ve spent six years in this partnership not getting there. In another two years we really should be there.”
Helegesen made that comment nearly 23 months ago. Seven years after signing the US$1 billion Norway-Indonesia REDD deal, Norway has handed over only US$97 million to Indonesia.
PHOTO Credits: Screenshots from Indonesia for Sale – Trailer, by the Gecko Project.