Hotspots of Carbon Confusion in Indonesia Threaten to Warm the World More Quickly

Indonesia has promised to become a world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2009, the president committed to a 26% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to below 'business-as-usual' levels. Of this total, 14% would have to come from reducing emissions from deforestation or forest degradation. Investments by foreign governments and other bodies are expected to raise total emission reduction from 26% to 41%.

While international negotiations on rules about how to reduce emissions and slow global warming are slow but ongoing, the Indonesian and Norwegian governments signed a letter of intent under which up to US$ 1 billion is available to assist in setting up a 'stop deforestation and forest degradation' system that also addresses peatland emissions. Part of the agreement is that Indonesia will implement a moratorium or 'two-year suspension on all new concessions for conversion of peat and natural forest'.

Promising as this may sound, the devil is in the detail. A lot depends on how 'peat' and 'natural forest' are defined and how rights are agreed upon. Strong lobbies from the forest and tree-crop plantation industry argue that the economy will be harmed if 'business as usual' is interrupted. According to news sources, definitions of 'natural forest' and 'peat' differ between drafts prepared by the Indonesian Government's emissions reduction taskforce and by the Ministry of Forestry. There are several key issues that need to be resolved.

First, if the moratorium is limited to the 'kawasan hutan' (forest estate), one-third of current emissions from clearing or converting woody vegetation will remain unaccounted for. The institutional mandates and types of permits issued by the government differ between 'kawasan hutan' and the 'other land uses' category, however. Multi-strata agroforests managed by farmers used to cover approximately 10% of the country (or 20 million hectare) in 1990 but were reduced to about 17 million hectare by 2005, with further conversion continuing to this day. Part of this change is based on the economic incentives farmers perceive from conversion to monoculture farming and part is due to external pressure.

Second, the draft of the Ministry of Forestry aims to allow for new plantation concessions in logged forests, where tree planting or conversion to monocultural tree plantations is presented as forest improvement. The Ministry proposes a moratorium limited to protecting primary forests, and defines these as 'natural forests untouched by cultivation or silvicultural systems applied in forestry'. Part of Indonesia's logged-over (secondary) forest still has high carbon stocks and is important for biodiversity conservation. It would help if a map of Indonesia could clarify where the moratorium applies.

Third, peatlands are immense storage houses for carbon and their protection from drainage and fire play a crucial role in the reduction of carbon emissions. Peatlands occur both within and outside of the forest estate and are source of emissions whether forested or not. The Ministry of Forestry draft excluded any new concessions on peatlands deeper than three metre, but this is already illegal and yet still occurs. A further challenge is that existing maps of peat depth are not very accurate.

Fourth, laws, regulations and customary norms applied by different levels of government, the private sector and local communities have often conflicted in the past and continue to do so in the present. These conflicts hamper the application of any scheme and will need serious attention to resolve.

These issues are hot in peatland-rich Central Kalimantan, which has been selected by the Indonesian and Norwegian governments as the primary pilot province for the proposed emissions reduction scheme. Over the past few decades in the province, shifting national policies have shaped the distribution of power and the actual use of peatland, with hundreds of thousands of hectare cleared of forest in a failed attempt to create farmland.

Expectations of payments for carbon emission reduction are currently shaping decisions over natural resource management. But any actions to reduce emissions will need to appreciate the institutional complexity. Different levels of government and the private sector are attempting to influence policy and exercise power, each interpreting history, facts, rules and norms differently in support of their own claims.

The World Agroforestry Centre's research shows that the contesting claimants used the current contradictions and inconsistencies of Indonesian laws, multi-sector policies and the articulation of local property and customary rights for their own purposes. Legal arguments were not necessarily decisive in settling disputes and the lack of respect for legality contributed to confusion, undermining authority.

Furthermore, carbon rights in the area were not clear. They are at least as complex as the laws, regulations, layers of government, NGOs and private sector players that interact during the process that starts with a natural forest and ends with a landscape with few trees, high emissions but still high carbon stock, that is, the peatlands of Kalimantan.

A letter from Yayasan Petak Danum (Water Land Foundation, an NGO in Central Kalimantan) published on 27 February 2011 on ( highlights the impact of these complexities on indigenous people's groups involved with one of the pilot projects designed to help reduce emissions in the province, the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership. The World Agroforestry Centre conducted research into tenure and other issues for the Partnership in the early days of the project, which has been encapsulated in ASB Policybrief 21, Hot spots of confusion: contested policies and competing carbon claims in the peatlands of Central Kalimantan, Indonesia (

All this is also pertinent in a place like the Tripa swamp along the western coast of Aceh, where a block of dense swamp forest on peatland, high both in carbon stock and orangutan population density, is threatened by conversion to oil palm.

Part of the permits for such conversion exist but conflicts remain between local communities, local and national governments and private companies. The land status was changed a decade ago from 'watershed protection' forest to 'other land uses'. The forest is, therefore, outside the proposed definition of 'forest' under the emission reduction scheme yet it is exactly the type of carbon stock that the world wants saved.

If conversion to oil palm takes place, it will be widely seen as a failure of the moratorium and the international commitment made by Indonesia.

Recent studies by the World Agroforestry Centre, Yayasan Ekosistem Leuseur and PanEco provide details on the case.

Although it is a challenge to resolve all the above issues in a country the size of Indonesia, it can happen if a) the goal of reducing carbon emissions while supporting human wellbeing is kept in focus; b) the moratorium is clear and operational; and c) it goes beyond restating existing regulations that have not prevented 'business as usual'. This leads to several recommendations.

* First, all forests, irrespective of their location and land status, should be included.
* Second, logged forests should be included and protected under any emissions reduction scheme because they still contain high carbon stocks and substantial biodiversity.
* Third, all peatlands should be included, irrespective of their depth.
* Fourth, the definition of 'forest' should be made relevant to its purpose, which is to reduce carbon emissions by avoiding removing or decreasing woody vegetation.
* Fifth, national and provincial governments are two among several contesting players and a negotiated settlement is needed rather than asserting a single legal authority.
* Sixth, market-based implementation of an emissions reduction scheme will add confusion because unresolved carbon rights are an addition to the already complex layers of unresolved property rights. A 'co-investment' approach, in which all parties work together for human and environmental benefit at local and global levels, can contribute to resolving disputes on property rights and see more transparent use of state authority.

For the moratorium, a simple rule could be that it applies to new concessions on all lands, except those with an aboveground carbon stock of less than 35 tonne of carbon per hectare, and it applies to all peatlands regardless of the amount of above-ground carbon. This would be relatively easy to map and monitor. It would set clear rules to move forwards for now. It would buy time to think through the issues that relate to the lands that are included in the moratorium and refine rules in future as needed. (sciencedaily)

Forest Stewardship Council Certifies Plantations

A troubling fact has come to our attention: an increasing number of large-scale tree monocrops are receiving Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification throughout the world.

Among the plantations recently given a "green" stamp of approval are Shell's plantations in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay; SAPPI's, MONDI's and SAFCOL's in South Africa; Klabin's and V&M Florestal's in Brazil; Perum Perhutani's in Indonesia; Fletcher Challenge's in New Zealand/Aotearoa and many others. If this trend continues, many more tree monocultures will also be guaranteed "sustainable" by the FSC, an organization which enjoys great credibility among the public.

The FSC was created as a result of increased awareness by consumers about their role in forest destruction, resulting from successful NGO campaigns, particularly regarding unsustainable logging practices in the tropics. When consumers began to ask their suppliers for certified wood, a number of NGOs decided to promote a process which could give them the choice of a "green" product. The NGOs came up with a number of principles and criteria that they insisted should be met before an FSC certificate was granted.

Nine of those principles are focused on forests and one on plantations (number 10). We believe that it is this decision -- to allow large-scale monoculture plantations to be certified along with other forestry operations -- which lies at the root of the current disturbing trend. People throughout the world are increasingly aware that plantations are not forests. Numerous local communities and organizations have documented the impacts of large-scale plantations and opposed them because of their social and environmental impacts. The plantations in question have resulted either in deforestation or in the degradation of other ecosystems, particularly grasslands and wetlands. On the ground reality is showing that large-scale tree monocultures -- no matter how many mitigation measures are implemented -- inevitably result in large-scale impacts on water, soils, flora, fauna and people because of their sheer scale.

Even if one accepts -- which we don't -- that plantations are forests, the fact is that Principle 10 is so weak that most plantations -- with the exception of those in areas marked by land conflict -- can be declared "sustainable" and given FSC certification.

We do not pretend to challenge the FSC and even less to question our NGO friends involved in it. What we do request is for them to revisit the whole issue of plantation certification, to take into account the plentiful existing documentation regarding the basic unsustainability of the plantation forestry model and either to exclude plantations from FSC certification altogether or to modify substantially Principle 10.

The FSC's main strength is its public credibility. Certification of unsustainable forestry operations -- such as large-scale tree monocultures -- can erode this credibility. A critical review of its own principles by the FSC can only increase it. We sincerely hope that the FSC will be able to accomplish the latter. (Forestnews)

Unique Orangutan Reintroduction Project Under Imminent Threat

KALIMANTAN - A Sumatran rainforest named a global priority for tigers and home to a unique orangutan rescue project is targeted for clearcutting by one of the world's largest paper suppliers.

An investigation found that since 2004, companies affiliated with Asia Pulp & Paper/Sinar Mas Group have sought out selective logging concessions with dense natural forests in the Bukit Tigapuluh landscape. The companies obtained government licenses to switch the forest status to industrial timber plantation concessions, sometimes under legally questionable circumstances. This allows for clearcutting and planting of commercial plantations, making homeless the indigenous forest-dwelling tribes and endangered species. This is in breach of the company's claims that it doesn't clear high-quality forest.

"Our investigation found that in the last six years, the company in this landscape alone contributed to loss of about 60,000 hectares of forest without appropriate professional assessments or stakeholder consultation," said Susanto Kurniawan of Eyes on the Forest. "This is one of very few remaining rainforests in central Sumatra; therefore we urge the Government not to give it away to APP/SMG, who will mercilessly eliminate it and devastate local communities and biodiversity."

Bukit Tigapuluh harbors close to 320,000 hectares of natural forest, with around 30 tigers, 150 elephants and 130 rescued orangutans that were released here. "These great apes are the survivors of the illegal pet trade who were confiscated and are finally getting a chance to live and breed again in the wild," said Julius Paolo Siregar of the Frankfurt Zoological Society. "Forest conversion plans mean certain death for many of them."

It is also home to two forest-dwelling tribes -- the Orang Rimba and Talang Mamak -- who are "being driven off their ancestral land by APP and other companies," said Diki Kurniawan from WARSI. "Many must now beg for rice handouts to survive."

Bukit Tigapuluh has been deemed one of 20 landscapes critical to the long-term survival of tigers by international scientists. In November, Indonesia pledged at a global tiger summit to make it a focal area for tiger conservation.

"The Bukit Tigapuluh landscape is a major test of Indonesia's $1 billion climate agreement with the Kingdom of Norway," said Aditya Bayunanda of WWF-Indonesia. "We stand ready to help the Government find ways to protect the forest and Indonesia's natural heritage."(ScienceDaily)

Three Hot Spots Detected in West Kalimantan

PONTIANAK - The Singaporean NOAA 18 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) satellite has detected three hot spots in West Kalimantan province, an official said.

The chief of West Kalimantan’s Environmental Conservation Agency in Pontianak, Madison, said here Friday, the first hot spot was located in Pulau Maya sub-district, North Kayong district, the second in Matan Hilir sub-district, Ketapang district, and the third in Nanga Serawa sub-district, Sintang district.

Previously, on Tuesday (March 1), observation showed only one hot spot in the Benua Martinus sub-district, Kapuas Hulu district, and on Wednesday four hot spots, namely in Ketapang three hot spots and in the District of Snapper, Kubu Raya District one hot spot.

"The air pollution standard index (PSI) in Pontianak and its surrounding areas is still normal," he said.

Earlier, a Meteorology and Geophysics Agency forecaster in Supadio, Pontianak, Sri Ningsih, estimated that smoke that emerged in the past couple of days was caused by a small scale combustion.

Sri said the Pontianak city’s hot weather and its surrounding areas in the past week was the result of low pressure in west Australia that was the beginning of a storm.

The current cloud concentration was due south of the equator, so rain would fall on the southern part of West Kalimantan such as Ketapang and surrounding areas.

"Based on our observation, Pontianak city have the possibility of light rain during March 1-4 which cannot be feel due to a layer of smog covering the city and its surrounding areas," Sri said.

The change from rainy to dry season is really experienced in West Kalimantan, as rain fall mostly showers the province all year long with only a several dry weathers.(kompas)

La Nina Helps Curb Forest Fires in Indonesia

Jakarta--Only one hot spot of forest and bush fires was detected by NOAA Satellite on Sumatra Island on Friday, compared to tens of hot spots a few days ago.
"For Sumatra, just one hot spot was detected, namely in South Sumatra Province. There is none in Riau Province, thanks to rains which have fallen in Riau including Dumai over the past several days," Marzuki, an official of the Riau Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), said in Dumai, Riau Province, Friday.
It was a significant decrease from around 86 hot spots detected by NOAA 18 Satellite on February 18, 2011. The hot spots were from forest and plantation fires occurring in Aceh, Riau, North Sumatra, Jambi, South Sumatra, Bengkulu, Bangka Belitung and Riau islands, according to Marzuki recently.
With the existence of the hot spots, most of the areas in southern and northeast Sumatera, like Jambi, Riau and South Sumatera, were covered by haze last month. In Riau Province alone, NOAA (the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration detected 29 hot spots last February 8, which caused Dumai city to be covered by thick haze and reduced the visibility to only 1,000 meters.
"A number of flights at Pinang Kampai airport had been delayed due to thick haze covering Dumai City as the visibility was less than 2,000 meters, Achwin, Head of the Pinang Kampai airport operational service, said last February.
At least 30 hectares of agricultural areas were burned in Dumia city alone. The fires affected an integrated agricultural zone (KPT) at Pelintung village, however, they had lessened thanks to the rains which had fallen in the area over the past few days, Hadiono, head of the Dumai agricultural office, said in Dumai on February 23.
Dumai’s Natural Resources Agency (BKSDA) chief Ismail Hasibuan said efforts to put out the fires were hampered by lack of water resources and the far range of the hot spots.
"The water supply is very limited, and we have to look for it in far places, and partly by digging wells, because most of the existing canals have dried up," he explained.
He said it would take a lot of time to extinguish even just one hot spot because it was located in deep peat area. In South Sumatra, tens of hectares of Pagaralam forests were also razed by fires on February 19.
"Quite many forests were on fire and the affected total area might reach hundreds of hectares, including at Lematang Indah area," Parkazi Gumay, a local resident of Pagaralam, said.
However, there is an encouraging trend regarding Sumatra’s forest and bush fires. The number of hot spots in Jambi province alone has been decreasing in the last five years since 2005, Sucipto, Head of the Jambi Pest Control and forest fires, said in Jambi recently.
In 2010 the number of hot spots in Jambi reached 623, a significant drop from 1,604 spots in 2005, 6,692 spots in 2006, 2,782 in 2007, 2,020 in 2008, and 1,784 in 2009. This year, up to February, satellite monitoring recorded 45 hot spots which spread in nine districts of Jambi Province.
Just for comparison, the NOAA 18 satellite had detected 277 hot spots on Sumatra Island, including 161 hot spots in Riau Province alone, in July 2010. Another good news is that, despite the forest and bush fires on Sumatra Island early this year, Batam and Singapore are expected not to be covered by haze because it is now the northern winds season.
The wind in the region was southbound so that the haze would not cover Batam and Singapore, according to the Head of Observation Division of Climatology and Geophysics Agency of Batam, Imam Prawoto, on March 2. Imam said forest fires in 2011 would not be as severe as in 2007 because the weather in 2011 was not too hot as the country has been experiencing La Nina nature phenomena which brings a lot of rains.
La Nina is quite the opposite of El Nino which often causes drought like in Indonesia. Partly thanks to La Nina, the forest and plantation fires early this year did not cause so much trouble compared to those in the previous years, which had even crossed the borders to neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.
Although the haze is expected not to affect the neighboring countries, still representatives of five ASEAN member countries last February met in Singapore, among other things, to discuss joint efforts to overcome forest and bush fires on Sumatra Island .
The ASEAN transboundary haze meeting was participated in by delegates from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, according to Husaini, the head of Bengkalis district’s environmental agency, recently.
"The meeting in Singapore has put the forest and bush fires in Riau province, including those in Bengkalis district, into the meeting’s agenda. This is actually a classical matter," he said.
In June 2002, ASEAN adopted an ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution that entered into force in November 2003. But, Indonesia has yet to ratify the ASEAN haze pact. Most forest fires causing haze were actually triggered by plantation companies applying the cheapest method to open new plantation areas.
In 1982-83 and 1994, forest fires in Indonesia had destroyed 6.4 million hectares of forests, especially in East Kalimantan. The fires were worsened by El Nino which had caused severe drought in the country having a total forest areas of around 120 million hectares, the world’s third largest after Brazil and Congo. (kompas)
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