An agreement signed by the Norwegian and Indonesian governments in Oslo in late May presents the country with big opportunities — as well as challenges — to implement the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus (REDD Plus) program.
Norway’s grant of US$1 billion to Indonesia under the partnership is a huge step towards saving the country’s peatlands and natural forests.
It is perhaps the biggest single pledge that any country has made to Indonesia for environmental management and climate change issues.
However, for REDD Plus initiatives to succeed, other countries must fully fund tropical forest protection schemes.
In Indonesia, the billion-dollar grant is a significant first step to help the country progress from preparation and readiness activities to launching pilot programs and, eventually, to full implementation of REDD Plus.
It is essential that the government use the funds wisely to support new policies and technical projects, to create a sustainable financial mechanism for forest protection and to prepare REDD Plus pilot programs.
To strengthen the partnership, President Susilo Bambang Yudho-yono announced in Oslo that Indonesia would halt granting new concessions for peatland and natural forest conversions for two years starting January 2011.
The announcement of a moratorium is timely, since previous development plans in the forestry, agriculture, infrastructure and mining sectors involved massive conversions of forests and peatlands.
Many stakeholders welcome and are ready to support Indonesia’s commitment.
However, the moratorium will only delay new concessions; previously-authorized land-use development will continue.
This may be a good thing, if the government encourages actors in key sectors to embrace sustainable development, such as redirecting investment to non-forested and non-peatland areas.
However, the moratorium may have a perverse effect and increase the number forest and peatland conversion concession requests before January 2011.
The Indonesian government must meet several requirements to achieve the objectives of the moratorium and use the billion-dollar grant to implement REDD Plus properly.
First, it is necessary to ensure good governance and establish credible systems to oversee REDD Plus development and implementation.
This can be achieved only if the system involves the businesses, actors and layers of government that are influential in the land-use and spatial-planning sectors.
The key players are those who are instrumental in the developing and changing land-use in forestry (e.g., logging concessions, industrial timber plantations), agriculture (e.g., oil palm plantations), mining, infrastructure and in other sectors.
It will be difficult to achieve the objectives of the moratorium without full support from those sectors.
Involvement and coordination of these sectors are essential for creating a REDD Plus management system.
A shift of power to the local level due to decentralization and growing aspirations from indigenous and
local communities must also be considered.
The central government should consider the roles and needs of local governments and stakeholders in developing REDD Plus systems and later, when developing a financial distribution mechanism.
The government should involve civil society and local and indigenous communities to avoid accusations of insensitivity that will hinder REDD Plus implementation.
Second, the agreement specifies that performance standards should be developed to demonstrate that REDD Plus is workable and achievable. Accordingly, the methodology, monitoring, accounting, reporting and verification of REDD Plus must be scientifically developed.
It will be difficult to assess REDD Plus success in contributing to emission reductions without credible standards. REDD Plus must be formalized and integrated into the country’s development agenda. If not, REDD Plus will be seen as an environmental and climate agenda and not a development agenda.
It is crucial that funds are disbursed through a fair and just benefit distribution mechanism that will ensure money reaches the right actors and that transaction costs are minimal.
Many question if the fund will reach those who have been protecting and managing forests on the ground, such as local and indigenous communities, or be diverted to others. This is a real challenge. REDD Plus incentives compete against big investments, which could change land use patterns.
These are all important aspects for Indonesia and Norway to consider when developing and implementing REDD Plus under the agreement.
Failure to address these concerns may hinder the development and implementation of REDD Plus and make the two countries lose one of the biggest opportunities to, once and for all, reduce and perhaps stop deforestation and peatland degradation.
The writer is a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University, a recipient of the Australian Leadership and Allison Sudradjat awards and the former program director of climate and energy at WWF Indonesia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.