Dec 12, 2017 Last Updated 3:54 AM, Nov 13, 2017

Who owns the carbon?

Who owns the carbon?

Jeff Neilson

   A hand-written sign forbidding forest clearing reinforces ambiguities
   over who actually determines resource use
  Jeff Nielson

On 2 February 2010, the Australian Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water, Senator Penny Wong, announced a A$30 million allocation to the Indonesia Australia Forest Carbon Partnership (IAFCP) project in Sumatra’s Jambi province. This added to Australia’s earlier commitment of a similar amount for conservation and restoration of carbon-rich peat swamps in Central Kalimantan. Both projects are part of a joint initiative agreed on by former Australian Prime Minister Rudd and Indonesian President Yudhoyono in June 2008, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Widely referred to as REDD, such schemes involve paying a government or other party to protect or restore forests and leave forest carbon in situ. . The ‘plus’ in REDD-plus adds reforestation activities to REDD’s original ‘avoided deforestation’ framework. As part of overall plans to mitigate global warming, both Australian and Indonesian governments would like to see carbon credits generated through REDD+ schemes traded in international carbon markets.

Implementing REDD+ effectively and equitably will face immense challenges due to complex resource tenure arrangements across Indonesia’s forest landscapes and problems associated with identifying legitimate resource users to be compensated through REDD+ payments. Rights to use natural resources, such as forest lands for timber extraction or conversion to agriculture, are highly contested in Indonesia where the government frequently allocates access to resources otherwise claimed by local communities. At best, these challenges will frustrate attempts to influence land-use transformations in a way that actually reduces Indonesia’s carbon emissions. At worst, REDD+ schemes will exacerbate inequitable access to natural resources, increase opportunities for corruption and reverse recent efforts toward local control over natural resources.

Any attempt to reduce deforestation in Southeast Asia should be applauded. The Terrestrial Carbon Group, an international group of senior scientists and policy advisors, estimates that deforestation contributes around 25 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In Indonesia, however, up to 85 per cent of emissions come from the clearing, burning and decomposition of forest and peatland. An international consensus on the importance of addressing such emissions is embodied in last December’s Copenhagen Accord, which includes a platform for REDD+ but leaves specifics to future negotiations. Meanwhile, forest-rich developing countries are already preparing REDD+ projects in cooperation with international donors, NGOs, scientists, corporations and – in some cases – forest dependent communities.

The Australian government is a keen supporter of REDD+. Last year, Australia pledged US$120 million toward a US$3.5 billion global fund aimed at reversing global deforestation. Australia also contributed A$12 million to the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) in addition to A$200 million committed to Indonesia under the IAFCP.

Indonesia also signed the Copenhagen Accord and formally submitted voluntary emission reduction targets to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat. By 2020, Indonesia aims to cut emissions to a level 26 percent below a predicted business-as-usual scenario. How Indonesia plans to achieve this target is the topic of much debate and speculation. A billion-dollar deal between Indonesia and Norway in May 2010 led President Yudhoyono to announce a national moratorium on commercial forest clearing. Indonesia’s National Council for Climate Change claims that 87 percent of this reduction will come from avoided deforestation, improved peatland management and a variety of carbon sequestration projects. REDD+ is thus central to Indonesia’s overall climate change mitigation strategy.

The Indonesian/Australian joint submission to the UNFCCC in August 2009 advocated international carbon markets to stimulate financing for REDD. Australia’s principal advisor on climate change policy, Ross Garnaut, argues that Indonesia and Australia should play complementary roles as seller and buyer of emission credits. The IAFCP aims to help Australia meet its long-term emission reduction targets by using REDD+ credits generated through forest conservation and tree planting by its northern neighbour. This apparent self-interest from the Australian Government has led the Indonesian environmental group WALHI to label the IAFCP ‘a fraud [that] aims to create a source of cheap credit for the increase in emissions in Australia’.

The nationalisation of Indonesia’s forests

Implementing REDD+ depends on accurately identifying and mapping who has legitimate rights over the carbon stored in landscapes. Promoters of REDD+ presume that carbon rights are linked to established systems of resource rights. Such rights, however, are highly contested across Indonesia, with only tentative shifts towards acknowledging community property and resource use rights since the fall of Suharto.

The Suharto regime’s 1967 Forestry Act effectively nationalised all forest land in the country, bringing forests (then 70 per cent of Indonesia’s land area) under Jakarta’s centralised control. This ushered in more than a decade of unrestrained logging through the 1970s as the Ministry of Forestry granted large-scale concessions to domestic and international timber companies, regardless of other land and forest claims, including longstanding claims held by local communities. Mapping and land use zoning have been important tools exerting Indonesian state control over natural resources. A parallel top-down and authoritarian process of provincial spatial planning began with the 1992 Spatial Planning Act. The lack of community participation in preparing forest and spatial planning maps laid the groundwork for future conflicts over state-designated zones for potential logging, mining and agricultural conversion.

Communities asserted their rights to use formally gazetted state forests, sparking sporadic conflicts with government agencies during the Suharto period. Local communities have continued to challenge state-based territorial claims through Reformasi to the present. Despite the state’s de jure claims over resources, local communities have repeatedly negotiated de facto resource access rights based on deliberations that reflect notions of social equity and ancestral privileges influenced by customary law. As a result, state-designated forest zones rarely match actual resource uses.

The Regional Autonomy reforms of 1999 conferred significant authority on provincial and district governments to manage natural resources. However, a revised Forestry Law (Law No.41/1999) contradicts parts of the Regional Autonomy Laws, leading to the past decade of ambiguity over which levels of government have authority to allocate land and forest rights. Decentralisation has spawned a paradox of uneven recognition of local land rights and community-based forestry on one hand, and a flurry of locally-issued logging licences and a boom in timber extraction, legal and illegal, on the other.

Rights for forest-dependent communities in Jambi?

WWF estimates that a staggering 85 per cent of Sumatra’s original forest has been cleared or converted to agriculture. Large-scale deforestation in Jambi dates to about 1980, when Forestry and Agriculture ministries started carving the province into a mosaic of logging and plantation concessions. Logged-over areas were planted with rubber, and more recently oil palm, which together now cover 40 percent of Jambi’s land. A recently proposed Spatial Plan recommends that only 30 percent of Jambi’s land be reserved as ‘Protection Forest’ or ‘Nature Conservation Areas’, the minimum required by law.

In March 2009, Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry recognised 2356 hectares of Protection Forest, adjacent to Lubuk Beringin in Jambi’s Bungo District, as Indonesia’s first village-administered forest, fully integrating control over forest rights into Indonesia’s uniform administrative village structure. A village council is responsible for managing the forest, can approve use rights including logging and non-timber forest product collection and makes decisions about forest land development. Forest management at the village level also empowers the village to use social sanctions against violators of village forest rules - considered more effective than punitive sanctions administered by higher levels of government.

neilson2.jpg
   An Orang Rimba swidden within Bukit Duabelas National Park
   Jeff Nielson

When asked about the benefits of the devolved forest management model in Lubuk Beringin, one villager replied, ‘the outside world needs the carbon in our forests, so now we can sell it to foreigners’. Optimism and knowledge of carbon markets are high. Yet there had been no specific announcement of REDD+ programs slated for the Lubuk Beringin land. As a pioneer of forest devolution and community based forest management in Indonesia, potential REDD+ programs in Lubuk Beringin may test whether and how rights over carbon (and financial benefits flowing from those rights) will accrue to local communities. If successful, REDD+ could reinforce the tentative shift towards community forest control in a democratic Indonesia.

Not all of Sumatra’s forest-dependent people have had their resource claims strengthened in recent years. Jambi is home to the ‘Orang Rimba’, a distinctive ethnic group of about 6000 individuals whose livelihoods revolve mainly around hunting and gathering forest products. The scattered bands of Orang Rimba, also known as Suku Kubu or Suku Anak Dalam, retain strong taboos that make assimilation with broader Indonesian society highly problematic. All of the Orang Rimba’s ancestral lands were designated as state forest, and effectively taken over by the government under the 1967 Forestry Act, with no acknowledgement of Orang Rimba traditional land rights. Today, Orang Rimba are generally permitted to eke out an existence on government-designated forest lands, but have no legal rights over the forest resources on which they depend.

Indonesia’s dominant development ideology finds the semi-nomadic lifestyle of the Orang Rimba abhorrent, and spatial plans routinely allocate their traditional lands to other ‘more productive’ users. The greatest concentration of Orang Rimba today lives in Bukit Duabelas National Park, where they combine hunting and gathering with some swidden farming and rubber growing. The area was designated a national park in 2001 with an explicit objective to allow the Orang Rimba to maintain alternative livelihoods and culture. Such provisions designated exclusively to a specific ethnic group are not found elsewhere in Indonesia. This arrangement in Bukit Duabelas, protecting a cultural homeland for the Orang Rimba, helps retain spiritual ties with the forest. Resource access, however, is best described as a ‘tolerated right’ and does not imply any specific legal rights.

Communities living outside the park are not so fortunate. Dejected groups of Orang Rimba west of the park live on ancestral lands that have been allocated as an oil palm plantation concession. Living in makeshift tarpaulin camps in an oil palm monoculture, these groups are unable or unwilling to make the adjustment to sedentary village life outside the forest. The outlook for these totally dispossessed Orang Rimba, reduced to begging and handouts after their forest was destroyed, appears particularly grim. Elsewhere, such as in designated production forests, Orang Rimba access to forest resources is currently tolerated, but these groups live under the constant threat of dispossession once timber concessions are granted.

While a specific IAFCP site in Jambi has yet to be announced, it is likely that the project would encounter Orang Rimba groups claiming ancestral rights to forest resources. Private-sector standards for REDD+ projects developed by international NGOs, such as the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA), attempt to ensure that rights of indigenous peoples are upheld. Yet how implementation of REDD+ will ensure that rights of the Orang Rimba are secured remains a serious challenge, when the legal status of their rights is so insecure. Protocols for recognising and securing resource rights for communities, such as the Orang Rimba, remain unresolved and highly contentious under REDD+ programs.

The road ahead for REDD+

International urgency to identify low-cost ways to slow climate change has put a spotlight on Indonesia’s forest carbon stores and REDD+ offers potential financing for Indonesian forest conservation. Optimistically, it might also provide incentives and external pressure to accelerate recognition of community based rights over forests.

However, despite willingness of organisations and governments in the ‘Global North’ to fund REDD+, investment will be ineffective unless the underlying institutions governing resource rights aren’t clarified first. Fast-track recognition of resource rights in an attempt to lure carbon dollars to Indonesia, without first embedding principles of social justice, threatens to exacerbate rural poverty and further undermine indigenous communities’ rights The prospect of REDD+ projects in areas where community land rights are already contested, or where forest-dependent communities have been recently displaced, increases the urgency of clarifying tenure in a way that recognises community-based resource rights.

Jeff Neilson (Jeffrey.neilson@sydney.edu.au) is a lecturer in geography at the University of Sydney, where he teaches and conducts research on environmental management and rural development across Southeast Asia. These reflections are based on a team visit to Jambi in February 2010 involving researchers from the University of Sydney and the University of Indonesia.

This article is part of the Indonesia's Environmental Challenges mini-series.


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