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SOUTH-EAST ASIA: Indonesia’s Forests Loom As Green Gold

Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Nov 15 2010 (IPS) - All eyes are on Indonesia and its forest policy as climate- change negotiations continue in the upcoming global talks in Mexico, against the prospect of billions of dollars flowing from the planet’s major polluters to the developing world to slow global warming.

The forests in South-east Asia’s largest country will be among those coming under scrutiny during Nov. 29 to Dec. 10, 2010 climate change meetings in the Mexican resort city of Cancun, environmentalists say. These meetings are the 16th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 6th conference of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

The potential windfall of incoming funds for countries in the Global South stems from discussions between climate change negotiators under a scheme known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestations and Forest Degradation (REDD), which opens the door for market-friendly financial mechanisms to be used to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

International efforts to make Indonesia REDD-ready in the region arise from the archipelago’s being home to the largest biodiversity-rich rainforest in South-east Asia.

Indonesia accounts for 94 million hectares of the South- east Asia’s 214 million hectares spread across 10 countries, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Burma, or Myanmar, comes a distant second, with 32 million hectares of forest cover.

“This is why there is so much attention on Indonesia with the ongoing discussions regards REDD,” said Patrick Durst, FAO’s senior forestry officer for Asia and the Pacific. “REDD could potentially be a useful tool and incentive for countries to stop deforestation.”

Even before the prospect of new revenue streams from REDD heading to Indonesia, Jakarta had been pursuing measures to curb logging in its forests. Already, its rate of forest loss has dropped from 1.7 percent in the 1990s to 0.7 percent over the last five years, reveals Durst. “Indonesia has taken a serious approach to rein in forest clearance.”

Indonesia’s significance in this climate change mitigation effort is also rooted in its being the country emitting the most amount of greenhouse gases in the world, largely due to deforestation and the clearing of forest land for plantation agriculture, including to harvest palm oil.

In a sign that he wants the country to do more, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a commitment at the September 2009 meeting of the world’s G-20 largest economies to slash his country’s greenhouse emissions by putting the brakes on deforestation and degradation, which are among the major contributors to global warming.

The new benchmarks the Indonesia leader set were a “commitment to reduce emissions from land use, land use change and forestry by 26 percent in 2020 from the business- as-usual levels, and by 41 percent with international assistance,” stated the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), an environmental think tank based in Bogor, Indonesia.

“Analysis shows that reducing Indonesia’s deforestation rate by five percent could generate REDD payments of 765 million U.S. dollars a year, while a 30 percent reduction could generate over 4.5 billion U.S. dollars a year,” noted CIFOR. “Through REDD, Indonesia has a unique opportunity to generate revenue, reduce the loss of forest cover and, in doing so, to make a significant contribution to mitigating global climate change.”

But this path to potential prosperity is also paved with hurdles, the most daunting among them being corruption in the forestry sector.

“There is serious corruption in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea,” said Manoj Nadkarni, head of the forest governance integrity programme in the Asia-Pacific region for Transparency International (TI), the Berlin-based global anti-corruption watchdog. “Indonesia ranks among the world’s worst five countries in Transparency’s Corruption Perception Index.”

“Corruption threatens to undermine REDD,” he told IPS on the sidelines of the 14th International Anti-Corruption Conference that ended over the weekend in Bangkok. “The problem is with illegal logging. Corruption in Indonesia’s forestry sector is the major driver of illegal logging.”

Illegal logging worldwide “robs the public of around 10 billion U.S. dollars a year from state-owned forests,” Transparency International said in its ‘Analysing Corruption in the Forestry Sector’ report released at the just-ended conference. “Underpayment of taxes by legal concession holders amounts to an additional five billion U.S. dollars.”

The ongoing illegal logging to feed the voracious demand for timbre for furniture and flooring across the world puts the estimated 700 million hectares of forest lands in the Asia-Pacific region in peril.

Some reports estimate that the current pace of illegal logging in countries targeted by timber companies – ranging from Burma, Cambodia and Laos to Vietnam, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea – could precipitate a dramatic drop in forest cover totalling a loss of 6.6 million hectares by 2020.

Strengthening governance at the local level is key for REDD to succeed, says Bernd-Markus Liss, an advisor on climate-relevant forest policy for the German Technical Cooperation in the Philippines. “Corruption in the forestry sector is prominent at the local level.”

“There is a need to create more transparency in licensing, auditing and investment,” he said in an interview. “Well-meaning measures, with adequate checks and balances, could also trigger corruption if local realities are not factored in.”

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