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Jakarta Post

Can the world eliminate tropical deforestation in the next 15 years?

Wahjudi Wardojo and Justin Adams
Jakarta   ●   Mon, November 10, 2014

At the UN Climate Summit in New York City this September, more than 150 multinational companies, governments, communities and other groups made the most ambitious multi-sector announcement to fight tropical deforestation in history '€” a milestone moment and a potential game-changer.

As the Guardian pointed out, the goal of the New York Declaration on Forests '€” to cut deforestation in half by 2020 and completely eliminate it by 2030 '€” could have a positive impact on our climate comparable to taking all the world'€™s cars off the road.

Land use '€” predominantly deforestation and agricultural practices '€” accounts for more than a quarter of global carbon emissions. Reducing emissions from land use, as well as restoring forests and other ecosystems that store carbon, are essential solutions to the climate-change problem. And, as indicated in the latest and most urgent report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), ensuring our continued health and economic prosperity depends on our ability to solve climate change. In fact, a failure to do so could put global economic progress in reverse.

A major challenge is finding solutions that do not hinder economic growth today. Success will require development and the environment working in concert, not conflict. Smart approaches to reducing deforestation presents a prime opportunity to do just that '€” offering Indonesia and other tropical-forest countries with the potential legacy of creating a stronger, more sustainable economic development pathway, while also conserving natural environments and taking a leadership role on climate.

Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recognized this opportunity with his commitment to reduce Indonesia'€™s deforestation, while growing the economy. Now, President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo has the chance to build on that commitment and lead Indonesia forward.

However, there are real technical, social and economic barriers that make the aspiration much harder to achieve.

Still, there is some reason for optimism. As Rhett Butler of recently observed, '€œThe tropics are shifting from poverty-driven to profit-driven deforestation.'€ We now have the chance to affect change with a relatively small number of larger public and private entities that are driving the bulk of land-use change through commodity markets and global trade. With a change in the scale of players comes a change in the scale of solutions.

And science and technology are evolving rapidly. Using cutting-edge mapping technology, experts now know how to better plan land use for various important functions across an entire landscape '€” evaluating the best places to develop for agricultural, mining or other economic production, and the best places to conserve the forests with the highest carbon storage and biodiversity potential, secure water and food security for local communities, as well as protect traditional cultural interests. These practices can also improve multinational business efficiency by shoring up supply chains, and local business compliance with increasingly sophisticated commodity-sourcing rules.

In fact, focusing at the scale of whole landscapes, or '€œjurisdictions'€, is a critical next step in moving from spirited commitments to actual results. In working with civil society, companies can help galvanize the critical action needed from governments. As an old African proverb said, '€œIf you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together'€.

The question is how to catalyze more collaboration and action at this landscape level. A lot has been made of finding sufficient financial incentives for Indonesia and other forest nations to justify a shift in their development behavior '€” the idea of essentially paying people to act differently. Carbon markets may yet deliver some financial reward, but are insufficient in isolation. Stronger governance and transparency, including improved law enforcement, streamlined policies and increased empowerment of civil-society oversight, will also be essential.

Teaching people in government, business and civil society why and how to act differently is another key piece of the puzzle, and insufficient skills remain a significant barrier to increased landscape-scale action.

The Indonesian government and The Nature Conservancy were among the signatories of the New York Declaration on Forests. We have been working together for nearly a decade to promote forest-friendly development, focusing over the last six years on scaling up our efforts across Berau district, East Kalimantan.

Our shared experiences underscore the challenge of actually getting this work done, but also provide lessons that companies, governments and partners can seek to replicate in other districts of Indonesia and countries around the world.

For example, we have been making progress in working with and training logging companies in Berau to adopt reduced-impact logging techniques, such as creating narrower logging roads and more precise tree-felling practices. These actions can reduce carbon emissions in Berau by more than 30 percent and maintain significant biodiversity, without reducing jobs and timber production.

We have also been educating communities on how to more sustainably manage their forests, in part through smallholder rubber plantations, honey production and other livelihood activities. And, in recent years we have been working with the district government to develop new financial reporting software for its village administrations, and training village representatives across Berau to use it.

This week, we are convening a meeting in Jakarta where over 100 local and global leaders will share lessons from similar experiences. Momentum on these issues will continue this week as the Asia LEDS forum convenes in Yogyakarta to discuss a greener development pathway for the region, and the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 meets in Jakarta to advance thinking on removing deforestation from supply chains.

So, can the world eliminate deforestation in the next 15 years, and address a material portion of global carbon emissions? Yes. But only if we take seriously the scale of the challenge and the steps needed to create lasting change. On the heels of the milestone New York announcement, Indonesia can be a global leader in turning commitments into results.


Wahjudi Wardojo is senior advisor for Terrestrial Policy. Justin Adams is global managing director of lands at The Nature Conservancy.