When Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono selected Central Kalimantan as the pilot province for his country’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) program, it was widely hoped some of the region’s grave environmental issues — such as large expanses of threatened peatlands and high forest conversion rates — would be addressed.
Two years on, it seems many of the same challenges remain, prompting some policy makers and conservationists to name the province a ‘matter of priority’ for the Indonesian government.
Central Kalimantan and Riau were the two provinces in the sprawling tropical nation at risk of releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere due to their large number of deep, carbon-rich peatlands, said Daniel Murdiyarso, senior scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
“If the government is trying to reduce emissions by 26 percent, it needs to include peatlands in REDD+,” said Murdiyarso, referring to President Yudhoyono’s target for 2020.
Central Kalimantan covers around 15 million hectares of land, of which 70 percent is still forested and rich in biodiversity. The region has seen consistent economic growth over the last decade, however much of this has come from unsustainable expansion of the agriculture and mining sectors.
For many of these reasons, Central Kalimantan was chosen to lead Indonesia’s trials of the UN-backed climate mitigation scheme REDD+, which sees funds channelled from developed to developing countries to keep their trees standing. Forest fires and peat decomposition are the largest drivers of emissions in the province.
Indonesia’s development of a REDD+ pilot province is stipulated under their partnership with the Norwegian government through a Letter of Intent signed in May 2010. Under the agreement, Norway will provide Indonesia up to USD1 billion in performance-linked funds for reducing deforestation and forest degradation. This is tied to Indonesia’s wider aim to deliver low carbon development and contribute to global action to reduce carbon emissions – by committing to a 26 percent emissions cut from business-as-usual levels and by up to 41 percent by 2020, while attaining 7 percent economic growth.
Kalimantan’s peatlands – more important than many think
Indonesia’s more than 20 million hectares of peat swamp forests have been neglected for decades, considered nothing more than wasteland and grossly undervalued, according to Murdiyarso.
“Forested peatlands contain something like 200 tons of carbon above ground, but the amount of carbon below ground is five times higher due to accumulation over thousands of years,” he said.
Central Kalimantan is still suffering from the continuing impacts of the failed Mega Rice Project, which in the 1990s aimed to turn more than one million hectares of peat swamp forest into rice paddies in an effort to alleviate Indonesia’s growing food shortage. The government invested in constructing drainage canals and removing trees of large swaths of peatlands as part of the project.
In 2011, it placed a two-year moratorium on new logging permits for primary forest and peatlands, as part of the wider efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation.
However, a CIFOR analysis conducted earlier this year showed that permits have already been issued for almost 5 million hectares of carbon-rich peatland that were previously thought to be covered by the moratorium.
“As the primary authority, the government needs to work out an arrangement with all those holding forest concessions to manage peatlands better,” Murdiyarso said.
Despite the many challenges, Central Kalimantan’s current governor, Agustin Teras Narang has high hopes for the province’s peatlands.
“My target is [to] convert a million hectares [of destroyed peatlands] into its initial proper functions, whether it is linked to forestry, agriculture, farming or fisheries.”
The ongoing problem of Kalimantan’s extractive industries
Central Kalimantan is renowned as the primary producer of ‘green gold,’ Teras said.
“From the 1970s through to the 1980s, there were 120 production forest concessions. Now, there are 55,” he said, suggesting that the fewer companies operating would clear less forested areas as well.
Overlapping forest concessions between central and provincial level authorities and between different sectors have also seen many violent clashes occur between customary landholders and logging and mining concession licensors.
Teras acknowledged these problems, stating that he wished district heads were more responsible in their decision-making.
“But this is not the case. Do you know that there is a district here that has issued over 230 mining permits? And that’s only one.”
To address these problems, the REDD+ Taskforce and the Central Kalimantan government have been reviewing existing logging licenses within selected districts, and have been exploring the legal options for honouring the rights of indigenous people. One such step forward is the One Map Initiative (OMI), which aims to consolidate land use licensing by different government departments and indigenous communities onto a single all-encompassing map.
In light of the many challenges ahead, Teras has a clear message for the future leaders of the REDD+ pilot province.
“Whoever leads Central Kalimantan in the future should not think that they can use this land for [their own interests],” he said.