Taking a New Look at Our Forests

Sunday, October 5, 2008

By: Fika Fawzia
Jakarta Post, Sat, 07/12/2008

Following the article on how Indonesia could benefit from carbon trading through use of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) mechanism (The Jakarta Post, June 24, 2008), we need to clarify some underlying problems before we can use the scheme to our benefit.

The REDD program is very attractive because of the financial incentives it could provide if Indonesia were to implement measures to reduce its current -- and devastating -- rates of deforestation.

However, we need to remember that REDD is still being negotiated at the international level.

Moreover, REDD is not simply a financial grant given by developed countries to developing nations for the purposes of forest conservation. It is also a financial incentive to preserve in their natural state those areas that are at risk of deforestation. In exchange for reduction in deforestation and carbon emissions, forest-rich countries will receive carbon credits.

Currently, commitments from developed countries regarding Indonesia's forests should be considered pilot or demonstration projects of REDD, not REDD per se.

With that in mind, human capacity building is not the only roadblock to implementing REDD pilot projects in Indonesia. There are three other obstacles ahead.

First, there is the challenge of which institution should have the authority to regulate REDD activities. While the Ministry of Environment is the focal point within Indonesia for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, it is the Ministry of Forestry that supervises forestry activities in the country. In addition, current dealings on climate-based forestry activities involve the authority of local governments -- such as Aceh and Papua -- rendering the problem more complex. For this reason, a multisector, rather than a single-turf, approach needs to be taken.

Second, land ownership conflicts involving corporations, government officials and indigenous people in forested areas are still widespread in Indonesia. Poor coordination and questionable data result in forestry permits being granted in areas where the population depends on the forest for its livelihood. This is why the government and/or project developers should consult with the local public and receive prior consent before a forested area is designated a REDD project.

Last, but not least, is the issue of benefit sharing. REDD's basic premise involves financial compensation for those who protect forests. It is too early, however, to judge whether such compensation actually helps lift those living near forests out of poverty. Even if the first two problems were taken care of, it still seems that everyone wants a piece of the carbon pie. But, in the end, is the pie worth it?

From Indonesia's experience with the Clean Development Mechanism, we know that the operational costs to validate, verify and certify reduced carbon emissions involve a large sum of money. Moreover, these processes require tedious bureaucratic steps to ensure legality.

With this fact out in the open, are we sure that poor people living near forests will benefit from REDD or other climate-based forestry activities?

Policy-makers and those involved in the REDD program must take a cautious step forward and tip the balance in favor of the people's welfare. Optimists of the climate forestry mechanism will need to ensure the transparency of cash flows generated from these projects. The main priority should be directing these flow to those really in need.

Climate change is not solely an environmental problem because at its core lies the issue of development. It's the same with our forests: Let's look at them not just as venues for offsetting carbon emissions, but as home to a diversity of species and the backbone of our country's economy.

Posted by Fiat Justitia at 10:51 AM


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