Indonesia: REDD must cover the rights of indigenous peoples and communities on their territories

“REDD will only compound the problem on the ground where forest is a complex system and turned into a narrow business transaction” – Deddy Ratih

Deddy Ratih is from the Jambi and also the Kalbar area in Indonesia. He has been working on environmental issues for more than 15 years. As a community activist he joined WALHI-FoE Indonesia. Deddy is one of he founders of the Green Party in Indonesia called the Sarekat Hijau Indonesia. It is a political organization championing the rights of communities and ecological equity.

REDD, or reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, is one of the most controversial new issues in the climate change debate. While the basic concept is simple; where governments, companies or forest owners should be rewarded for keeping their forests instead of cutting them down, the finer details, the local realities and national contexts are what causes huge problems with REDD.

Deddy shared with us some of the current REDD projects Indonesia. Currently, the following are some of the identified REDD projects which are being monitored:

  1. Aceh: Ulu Masen Project, 750.000 ha: an agreement has been signed between the Government of Aceh and Carbon Conservation (Australia). This project was facilitated by Flora and Fauna International (FFI);
  2. Aceh: Leuser Ecosystem, An agreement has been signed between the Government of Aceh and Sustainable Forest Management Southeast Asia (SFM SE Asia Ltd), Singapore;
  3. Riau: The pulpwood plantation company Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) has put forward a proposal to manage the Kampar Peninsula in Central Sumatra as a protected forest. The proposal would establish a core protected area surrounded by a ring of 200,000 hectares of pulpwood plantations;
  4. West Kalimantan: FFI has developed proposals for REDD pilot projects in Sungai Putri and Kapuas Hulu. A FFI presentation shows heavily armed security personnel protecting the forest (FFI 2008; FFI 2009). This project is supported by the Macguarie Bank (Australia);
  5. Central Kalimantan: 1 million ha of degraded peatland at the site of the failed rice mega-project in Central Kalimantan has been earmarked as a pilot project for REDD. This scheme is supported by the Australian Government’s AU$30 million Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership and JP Morgan Stanley (USA);
  6. East Kalimantan: In Malinau, a MoU was signed between Swiss company Global Eco Rescue (GER) and state owned forestry company PT Inhutani II, 225.000 ha East Kalimantan, Berau. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has provided support for preliminary preparation activities in the regency;
  7. Papua: FFI developed a proposal with the Papuan provincial government for a REDD scheme in the Cyclops Mountains near Jayapura. A MoU has been signed between FFI and the Papua government but the project is still awaiting central government approval;
  8. New Forests (Australia) in conjunction with Emerald Planet have developed a pilot REDD program in the regions of Mimika, Memberamo and Merauke;
  9. Conservation International has developed a pilot project with PT Mamberamo Alasmandiri, and will receive support from Carbon Conservation and Forest Carbon;
  10. AU$ 30 million Indonesia-Australia Sumatera Forest Carbon Partnership in Jambi (at Feb 2010);
  11. UN-REDD, Central Sulawesi;
  12. Letter of Intent Indonesia – Norway, 26 May 2010 (Bengkulu, Jambi, Riau, Kalbar, Kalteng, Kaltim, Papua)

As can be seen from the list, there are now a lot of initiatives to have REDD projects in Indonesia. Before the REDD was conceptualized and popularized, Indonesia has already had a long history of conflict in relation to forest resources and forest management. What needs to be realized is that in the Indonesian context, forest issues are very complicated and with a lot of conflict.

REDD and other schemes to protect forests will be problematic unless the fundamental issues and problems are addressed. These fundamental problems are:

  1. Indigenous Peoples and community rights over forest lands and resources are not recognized.  It is important to stress that conflict is rooted on the problem of unrecognized community territory, especially on indigenous people lands. Until the government and other players recognizes and respects this, there will be several REDD failures where billions of billions of dollars are being spent;
  2. Neoliberal practices where the demand for timber is higher than what can be supplied:  the push of the market for more supply has resulted to the denudation of forests which have resulted to huge environmental impacts, calamities and violation of indigenous peoples and community land areas;
  3. Low political leadership, high corruption:  corruption in different structures in government feeds into the massive approval of REDD projects without legal tenders or without going through the proper forums. These have led to serious problems and conflict with communities who have not been consulted nor have been sought for their prior informed consent; and
  4. Unclear forest territories: There is no clear delineation of territories and unclear mapping of forested areas.

As most indigenous forest dependent people lack secure land tenure arrangements, REDD runs the risk of inciting land grabbing as commercial and state interests seek to benefit from the distribution of REDD funds.  REDD proposals continue to be developed in a top-down manner from governments, international agencies and carbon finance companies, and communities at the local level are often poorly informed (FPP 2009: 7, as cited by Deddy)

Deddy highlighted experiences of REDD projects in Jambi and West Kalimantan where the letter of intent was signed without the knowledge of other parties.  The letter of intent signed between Indonesia and Norway covered 5 provinces in Indonesia.

In Deddy’s view, REDD will only compound the problem on the ground where forest is a complex system and turned into a narrow business transaction. This business transactin will have has consequences on peoples livelihoods and national sovereignty. He spoke about the weaknesses and shortcomings in this agreement. He strongly feels that REDD will accelerate the land grabbing process in Indonesia and this would not bode well for the 48.8 million forest dwelling people.

In the past year, there have been increased action on REDD projects by communities and organizations alike. There is a lot of confusion about REDD (and now even REDD++) and its applicability in certain countries. What needs to be done is to have constant educational awareness programs on REDD, its applicability in certain areas, the impacts on indigenous peoples, communities and forest dwellers, etc.  It should also be avoided that because there is still a need to increase knowledge on REDD, there will be a danger to have a division among communities and also among organizations and social movements.

In the case of Indonesia, there are several conditions that are lacking in Indonesia which will only exacerbate forest and biodiversity loss and also increase resource conflict, human rights violations and threats to national sovereignty.

Deddy ended his presentation by highlighting what can we do, what actions we can take: REDD can only serve to protect the forests once the fundamental conditions are met. Deddy stated that REDD capacity building activities must clearly cover the rights of indigenous peoples and communities on their territories including forest territories.  There should also be a global mapping of forest areas, definitions or legal instruments  (including most especially traditional indigenous peoples judicial systems, definitions of forests), strains on forest resources, REDD projects and their impacts. For sure this can be done within the Asia Pacific region so that a clear and united political positioning can be done.