Saving the planet is our joint responsibility

DTE 84, March 2010

By Pang Yuriun, Coordinator of Aceh's Indigenous Peoples' Network (JKMA).

Accepting REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) schemes as a necessary means to combat global warming bears a series of consequences for all of us. First, measures undertaken under the REDD mechanism need to be an integral part of an overall strategy to combat illegal logging and reduce the rate of forest destruction and degradation. Illegal logging has skyrocketed in Aceh despite the logging ban issued in 2007 by the local government. The demand for timber due to post-tsunami reconstruction work has created additional pressure on the customary lands of indigenous communities in Aceh.

We have also witnessed the Acehnese authorities announce their target of establishing one million hectare of oil palm plantations under the 'Aceh Green' programme. It is deplorable that this plan was drawn up without hearing the voice of indigenous peoples and that it ignores their communal rights to their customary lands.

Second, the Acehnese authorities have yet to prove that they fully recognise the rights of indigenous peoples - for instance by recognising clear customary land boundaries and by recognising customary law as binding for all actors in order to strengthen social cohesion. In Indonesia, the rights of indigenous peoples are only recognised to a very limited degree and are merely mentioned in very few laws. Indigenous peoples' rights must be recognised in a specific law.

Third, because of the reasons stated above we need support from civil society organisations such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with regard to aspects of good governance within the implementation of REDD. This is not only necessary at the policy level but also in order to improve the preparedness for implementing REDD supported projects in Aceh.


The Aceh Green recipe

The Acehnese authorities have launched several "green" projects in the past. The first logging moratorium was imposed in 2001 in order to ban logging concession activities in Aceh's forests during a certain period of time.

After being elected Aceh governor in 2007, Irwandi Yusuf introduced a series of procedural changes to the implementation of the logging moratorium in Aceh. The new operational framework is more detailed than the previous one and includes:

  1. a review of the status of Aceh's forests (including forest cover, concessions, and productive capacity of forests);
  2. a redesign of the concept of sustainable forest development and management strategy (forest area, policy framework, institutions);
  3. the development of more effective policies to control all actors involved in illegal logging.1

The Acehnese authorities have established the sources of investment and financing for "green" post-disaster and post-conflict projects in Aceh. They claim to follow a sustainable development approach based on clean energy management, using reforestation measures to obtain energy from bio-fuels, and reducing the rate of forest degradation. This has become known as the Aceh Green programme. The programme requires cooperation between the private sector, NGOs and the government. In fact, the programme is part of the Acehnese authorities' effort to turn Aceh into a carbon trading area - in line with their commitment to save the Acehnese forests as declared to the international community during the UNFCCC (the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change) on 7 December 2007.2

The results of these three approaches have been quite diverse. Illegal logging in Aceh actually seems to have increased since the logging ban was announced; the cause for this lies in the fact that it does not take into account the role indigenous people can play in saving the forests.

Through the Aceh Green programme the Acehnese authorities wish to express to the international community their commitment to save Aceh's forests. The programme has received financial support from the Multi Donor Fund (MDF), channelled through the World Bank. The amount disbursed in 2008 amounted to USD 1,473,609 or 21 per cent of the total funds (USD 6,965,397) for the Aceh Forest Environment Project (AFEP). This programme is scheduled for 2005-2010 and it is to be implemented by the Leuser International Foundation and Flora Fauna International3. It is deplorable that so far these large amounts of money have not had any positive impact for the local communities but rather seem to cause new problems or exacerbate existing ones - new conflicts arise among local communities, illegal logging continues to increase, forest fires remain out of control and local communities are left to watch instead of being involved in the process.

What is it like for the indigenous people of Ulu Masen?

To reach its goal of reducing the risk of global warming, REDD must be implemented following the principles of good governance. This should at least cover the following aspects:

Information: a survey carried out by JKMA Aceh in 2008 showed that the indigenous communities around Ulu Masen - supposedly one of the target groups of the REDD scheme - had never received any information at all about the programme. They had not been informed about what REDD is, the mechanisms used for its implementation, the activities it encompasses, the risks it may entail or what local communities can do to prepare themselves for its possible impacts.4

Institutional capacity at local level: The smallest governance unit in Aceh is called gampong (village). In most cases, their capacity for organisational management is rather weak. This will have direct implications on the implementation of the compensation schemes under REDD, in terms of accountability, administration and conflict resolution.5

Socio-economic aspects: It is obvious that the livelihoods of the communities in the Ulu Masen area - where the REDD projects are to be implemented - directly depend on the local natural resources. Rain fed and irrigated agriculture makes up at least 90% of their economy. They live below the poverty line and have only limited access to education and health services.

Additionally, this area was badly affected by the 30 years of armed conflict between the Acehnese independence movement GAM and the Indonesian military. Several villages were burnt down and the inhabitants of the area were among the worst hit by violence. Many people "disappeared" or were killed. Its coastal zone was devastated by the tsunami in December 2004. Its agricultural infrastructure and inputs were largely destroyed or badly damaged and cannot be used.


Global justice

If we agree to use a series of development and compensation activities as a means to mitigate the effect of global warming, we need to share the responsibility. This will only happen if global justice is ensured so that rich and poor countries meet at equal level and do not harm or exploit each other.

The REDD framework needs to provide incentives for all tropical forest countries. Leaving our important countries will create legal loopholes, deforestation will continue, and we will lose the battle against greenhouse emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Up to now, the implementation of REDD projects has been monopolised by several government actors and international NGOs. The problem is not how many actors are involved in REDD; the most important issue is that the compensation payments need to be high enough to really provide a competitive incentive against deforestation for economic purposes in the Ulu Masen area.

As members of JKMA and of the indigenous communities around Ulu Masen we regard REDD as a joint effort to share the responsibility of curbing the disaster of global warming and we demand that those whose livelihoods largely depend on the forest resources in the area should be actively involved in the design and implementation of the REDD programme. We believe that mitigating the effects of global warming can only succeed if we all share the responsibility of supporting this kind of programme to ensure that future generations can enjoy a healthy environment.

We are convinced that we can only win the battle against global warming if the people and nations of this world act collectively and consistently. Rich countries often claim to be doing a lot to fight global warming but at the same time their patterns of production and consumption cause pollution and contribute the largest share to global warming. Unless we reach a more equitable balance, our local efforts against global warming will be useless.


Pang (Uteun) Yuriun

Single-word names are quite common in Indonesia. Yuriun is one example. However, among his social circle in Aceh, his homeland, Yuriun is also known as Pang (Uteun) Yuriun. Pang Uteun is an Acehnese customary title, meaning commander (pang) of forest (uteun). Yuriun was the Pang Uteun for Blang Me Mukim in North Aceh, before he became involved with the Aceh's Indigenous Peoples Network (JKMA) as executive secretary in 2003. One of his main responsibilities as 'forest commander' is to enforce customary law within the forest area. A Mukim, - the Acehnese traditional legal unit of governance between gampong (lowest level of customary governance) and sub-district - usually covers several gampongs. His background as Pang Uteun lends weight to his current position as the Coordinator of JKMA since 2005.

Taking up the role as a bridge between local and international communities, last year Down To Earth had the opportunity to accompany two local community representatives to attend international conference on climate change, one each from Aceh and West Papua. Pang Yuriun was selected to represent Acehnese community groups in the pre-COP15 session in Bangkok, which ran for 2 weeks in September - October 2009.

Undeterred by his lack of English skills, Yuriun was very persistent in learning about the UN negotiation process in situ, a process which is often overwhelming even for seasoned participants in international talks.


Community participation gap

In many cases. the gap between the theory of community participation and what actually happens on the ground remains wide. Often projects are rushed in under the noses of local communities while hardly any information about the project is made available to them. When the information is available, more often than not it is in language(s) foreign to the community. In such cases, how can communities be expected to give informed consent?

Yuriun's comment on Ulu Masen REDD pilot project in Aceh, where local people did not have information about the project, or about REDD in general, is a prime example of this (see main text).

His organisation's research is backed up by a report on the lessons learned from Ulu Masen which concludes that the risk posed by the project is "...over-simplification of the contextual factors and complex dynamics inherent in REDD initiatives."i

One of the main ideas behind the Bangkok trip was to let community representatives from regions targeted for REDD to see for themselves how negotiations are conducted at international level, by their own government representatives along with other governments, and the role played by civil society groups attending the meetings. As part of the Civil Society Forum on Climate Justice (CSF), DTE was able to facilitate teach-ins by expert colleagues on climate change and REDD for Yuriun and the other community representatives, during a series of workshops in preparation for the Bangkok trip and during the Bangkok Talks themselves.

However, what the Bangkok visit highlighted for Yuriun, as well as other community representatives and DTE, was the huge gap between the level of understanding needed to follow and contribute to the discussions at international level on the one hand, and the level of understanding there is about climate change and REDD at community level.

The urgency to act on climate change has prompted many within the international climate justice movement to call on governments to refocus on the core problems - the overriding need to reduce emissions in rich countries, to reduce the pressure on resources by addressing overconsumption, and to prevent more forest destruction while protecting indigenous rights and local community interests.

While the knowledge and participation gaps inherent in complex schemes like REDD remain so wide, such schemes will not win the support and trust they need to be effective. Instead they are likely to end up an expensive waste of precious time and effort which are not able to deliver on their climate change mitigation promises.

i Ross Andrew Clarke, 'Moving the REDD Debate from Theory to Practice: Lessons Learned from the Ulu Masen Project', 6/1 Law, Environment and Development Journal (2010), p. 36, available at





1 Aceh Green 2008: Provincial government of Aceh (2008): Green Economic Development and Investment Strategy for Aceh, Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
2 Aceh Green, as above
3 SKH Serambi Indonesia, 13/Feb/08
4 JKMA Aceh-CIRIS (2008): Perdagangan Karbon dan Dampaknya Terhadap Masyarakat Adat disekitar Ulu Masen, [Carbon trade and its impact on indigenous communities around Ulu Masen], Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
5 JKMA Aceh-CIRIS (2008) as above.