Can REDD save the forests of Aceh?

By Chris Lang, REDD Monitor | 22nd March 2013

More details about the Province of Aceh’s proposed spatial plan are emerging. The Jakarta Post reported this week that if the plan were approved in its current form, an area of 1.2 million hectares of forest would be converted “into plantation and mining areas and other purposes”.

The plan proposes the creation of a transmigration site inside the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. This covers a total area of 2.5 million hectares and consists of three national parks, including Gunung Leuser National Park in Aceh. The proposed spatial plan makes no mention of either the Leuser Ecosystem or of the Ulu Masen REDD project.

According to a press release from conservationists in Aceh, an area of slightly less than one million hectares is proposed to be allocated as mining concessions. Logging concessions would cover 416,086 hectares and oil palm plantations a further 256,250 hectares.

The protected status of the Tripa Peat Swamp would be removed. An extensive road network would be revived under the plan. Known locally as the “spider’s web”, the plan was previously rejected because of the impact it would have on Aceh’s forests. Meanwhile, only 14,704 hectares is proposed to be allocated to communities.

Earlier this week, environmentalists protested outside the Hermes Hotel in Banda Aceh, demanding that the government cancel the proposed spatial plan.

An on-line petition has been set up, which already has more than 16,000 signatures, asking Zaini Abdullah, the Govenor of Aceh, to reject the plan to convert 1.2 million hectares of Aceh’s forests and to review the spatial plan. The petition also asks the governments of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland “to assist with the funding and technical support for the Aceh Government to revisit and revise this potential disaster”. Sign the petition here, or click on the image below:

An interesting question is whether Aceh’s proposals are in breach of the US$1 billion Indonesia-Norway REDD deal. Obviously, they are in breach of the spirit of REDD, because the proposals will increase emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The Letter of Intent between Norway and Indonesia, signed in May 2010 states that,

The purpose of the Partnership is to contribute to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, forest degradation and peatland conversion.

This is supposed to be achieved by “Conducting a policy dialogue on international climate change policy,” in particular on REDD, and “Collaboration in supporting the development and implementation of Indonesia’s REDD+ strategy.”

According to the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force website, completing the spatial plan was part of “Aceh’s 2011 Operational Framework for REDD+ Implementation”. Although it was not completed in 2011, presumably the spatial plan for Aceh remains under the framework of Indonesia’s REDD programme.

But whether the Norwegian Government (or any of the other REDD initiatives in Indonesia) will do or say anything to stop the destruction of Aceh’s forests is another matter. If the Aceh government were allocating new concessions in areas of primary forest, then it would be in breach of the moratorium under the Indonesia-Norway deal. But if the forest is secondary, or the concessions existed before the moratorium came into effect, then the Indonesia-Norway deal has nothing to say. In any case there are no real sanctions under the moratorium. And in a few week’s time the moratorium is set to expire.

The Letter of Intent makes no mention of free, prior and informed consent, but does include the following principle on participation:

Give all relevant stakeholders, including indigenous peoples, local communities and civil society, subject to national legislation, and, where applicable,
international instruments, the opportunity of full and effective participation in REDD+ planning and implementation.

Efendi, a spokesperson for the Coalition of people Concerned for Aceh’s Forests (KPHA),explains that the spatial plan has been produced without consultation with local communities and NGOs:

“Despite our best efforts, communities and NGOs have been completely excluded from the development process of the new spatial plan, which has totally lacked transparency and accountability.”

One “success story” of the Indonesia-Norway deal is the fact that the maps showing the moratorium area are publicly available. AMAN, Indonesia’s indigenous peoples alliance, is attempting using this “One Map” policy as an opportunity to promote its initiative of mapping indigenous territory. In November 2012, 265 maps of indigenous peoples land were handed to the REDD+ Task Force, with a request that these maps be included in the official “One Map”.

But even this “One Map” policy is not a complete success. Down To Earth commented recently that,

[W]hen DTE tried to access some of the maps mid-February [2013] many of the map layers were not accessible and there was not an obvious means of accessing information about, say, mining and oil and gas concessions. This information is also not accessible via the most obvious place – the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry website. In contrast, there is a whole wealth of maps publicly available via the Forestry Ministry’s website, including archives as well as the moratorium maps in all four versions.

Earlier this month, Norway’s Ambassador, Stig Traavik, visited Central Kalimantan. On itswebsite, the Norwegian Embassy explains that the purpose of the visit was “to observe progresses on REDD+ preparation and implementation in the REDD+ Pilot Province”. Of course, the Embassy makes no mention of the problems with the Australian-funded Kalimantan Forest Climate Project, or the vast (and increasing) area of oil palm plantations in the province.

Neither does the Embassy refer to the fact that the Letter of Intent refers to a second province-wide pilot which “could be chosen by late 2011 and implemented by early 2012″. Of course, this has not happened. Along with many other things that were agreed under the Indonesia-Norway deal. In an recent statement, Greenpeace Indonesia comments that,

[L]ittle progress has been made so far on the moratorium and the key outputs agreed as part of the US$1 bn Indonesia-Norway forest protection deal; the establishment of the REDD Agency, and the financial and monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) institutions, have not yet been achieved. The main roadblocks to more progress have been poor governance, outdated maps and data, the lack of clear social and environmental safeguards and the definition of degraded land.

Indonesia has several REDD initiatives running in parallel. There’s the US$1 billion Indonesia-Norway REDD deal. The World Bank has its Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and Forest Investment Programme. Then there’s the UN Office for REDD+ Coordination in Indonesia (the replacement for the UN-REDD Indonesia programme, that closed its office in January 2013). But will any of them attempt to reduce deforestation and forest degradation in Aceh?

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About endoftheicons

The Leuser Ecosystem on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia is in grave danger. Local politicians want to allow logging, mining and palm oil plantations in this vulnerable area. Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers are already hanging on by a thread. They will not survive the destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem.

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