Indonesia's climate promises and policy incoherence

Down to Earth No.83, December 2009

By Chris Lang.1

Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono likes to make promises. Particularly at international meetings. At last year's G-8 summit in Japan, Yudhoyono committed to reducing carbon emissions from deforestation by 50 per cent by the end of this year, 74 per cent by 2012 and 95 per cent by 2025.2

This year, at the G-20 summit in the USA, he said "I do believe that it is much better for all of us to have our own targets, timeline and action plan which we can constantly update and improve." Yudhoyono updated his targets on reducing deforestation, but he certainly did not improve them. In fact, he didn't mention any specific targets on reducing emissions from deforestation (presumably because this would have involved admitting that Indonesia had failed to meet the target Yudhoyono committed to last year in Japan). Instead, Yudhoyono promised that "We will change the status of our forests from that of a net emitter sector to a net sink sector by 2030". 3 This is nothing more than a promise (to which no one can hold Yudhoyono accountable) that in 21 years' time (by which time it is extremely unlikely that Yudhoyono will still be President) the amount of carbon absorbed by Indonesia's forests will be more than the amount emitted.

In the 14 months between the two meetings an area of around two million hectares of Indonesia's forests has gone. At the UN climate negotiations in Poznan, Arief Wicanksono, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Political Advisor, said "Six months on from his Hokkaido commitment, we have seen little action to address Indonesia's rampant deforestation. We urge President Yudhoyono to implement an immediate moratorium on all forest conversion, including expansion of oil palm plantations, industrial logging, and other drivers of deforestation." 4 Unfortunately, the Indonesian government seems to be doing the reverse.

In a recent study, Indonesia's National Climate Change Council states that Indonesia's carbon emissions could be reduced by more than 40 per cent over the next 20 years against 'Business as Usual projections (see separate article). About 84 per cent of Indonesia's greenhouse gas emissions comes from deforestation and degradation of peat lands. The National Climate Change Council estimates that cutting emissions by 40 per cent would cost about US$32 billion.

Agus Purnomo, the executive secretary of the National Council on Climate Change, states that "over time, five years, seven years, perhaps 10 years, then we will have all the elements of REDD in place, then we can come up with high quality REDD projects for the carbon market to pay." Until the REDD mechanism is working, Indonesia will continue to deforest: "We are not hinting that that Indonesia needs to stop breathing, or need to stop cutting trees, no," Purnomo told Voice of America in September 2009.5

Earlier this year, the government quietly lifted a ban on using peatlands for oil palm plantations6 and allowed pulp companies to log native forests. Up to 2 million hectares of peatlands could be converted to oil palm plantations. Even if the land is not cleared by burning, draining peatlands (which is necessary to grow oil palm) releases vast amount of carbon dioxide because when the peat is exposed to air it oxidises and decomposes. 7


Massive expansion

The government hopes for massive expansion of both the oil palm and pulp and paper industries, with plans for an additional 20 million hectares of oil palm plantations and 10 million hectares of new pulpwood plantations. Inevitably, this will involve conversion of forests to industrial tree plantations.

A recent report by the Environmental Investigation Agency and Telapak in Papua and West Papua Provinces describes how five million hectares of mainly forested land is under threat from oil palm and other biofuel plantations. "Companies are tricking Papuans into giving up their land for oil palm plantations based on empty promises about their future welfare," Hapsoro of Telapak said.8 "This is all happening with the backing of the government in the name of development." Jago Wadley of EIA adds that "this is policy incoherence of the highest order."

The government is also considering plans to allow mining companies to operate in protected areas. "We are now reviewing articles prohibiting mining activities in conservation forests," Daruri, the Director general for forest protection and natural conservation at the Forestry Ministry, said in November 2009.9

Meanwhile, illegal logging continues. Corruption in the forestry sector has not been addressed. A recent report by Human Rights Watch Asia10 estimates that the government loses US$2 billion every year as a result of corruption, illegal logging and mismanagement. Joe Saunders of Human Rights Watch says, "Until the lack of oversight and conflicts of interest are taken seriously, pouring more money into the leaky system from carbon trading is likely to make the problem worse, not better."11

The government has warned local authorities to beware of fake carbon brokers who offer promises of money from REDD. Forestry Ministry official Wandojo Siswanto told the Jakarta Post that "Regents and mayors in Kalimantan and Sumatra have been offered such promises. The brokers who claimed to be carbon developers launch intensive campaigns to convince regents to sign the MoUs. But at the moment not a single cent goes to local administrations." 12

Many local administrations remain unaware of REDD. "Until now, there has been no institution dealing with the REDD at provincial and regency levels, making it difficult to disseminate the issue," Onrizal, a forestry expert from North Sumatra, told the Jakarta Post.13 Even worse, local people are completely in the dark. "We cannot decide whether we would accept or not because we have had no information at all," Jajang Kurniawan a farmer in West Java told film makers LifeMosaic.14 "The name of the programme is very foreign to us. What is this REDD? What kind of animal is it, we just don't know."

"Indonesia hasn't shown the ability to prevent deforestation," as Timothy H Brown, senior natural resources management specialist at the World Bank in Jakarta, drily told the Jakarta Globe in December 2009.15 But claims that REDD will stop deforestation are nonsense as long as the government encourages the expansion of the industries that cause deforestation.


1 Chris Lang runs the REDD-tracking website REDD-Monitor. See