REDD+ needs to change the way we think about forests

Until recently forests used to be seen as idle land which should be utilized for timber, farming, and mining. We now know that they do much more than that: their role as carbon sinks has a great impact on global warming. Center For International Forestry Research/Dede Rohadi

BOGOR, Indonesia (21 May, 2011)_Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD+, means a difficult shift to a new paradigm where economic growth in Indonesia is attained by leaving trees standing, said Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, head of the country’s taskforce that’s preparing the implementation of the global scheme that compensates developing countries for keeping their forests.

“Everything in this country is built with the old paradigm where development means cutting trees”, Kuntoro said. This includes the institutions, economic frameworks and regulations. “We are now at the point in which we have to develop a new stage, and this is not easy,” he said.

Until several decades ago, forests used to be seen as “idle” land, which should be utilized either for timber or to give way to plantations, farms, and mining areas. Forests have received renewed interest in the past decade for their role as carbon sinks as the world struggles to minimize impacts of global warming, caused mainly by emissions from human activities.

Land use change and forestry contributes about 60 percent of Indonesia’s carbon emissions – far higher than any other sector – and REDD+ has been identified as one of the cheapest ways for the country to meet its self-imposed targets to cut emissions by 2020. Still, Kuntoro’s taskforce is facing opposition from various industrial and governmental groups in preparing for the implementation of REDD+, which will include a two-year moratorium on new forest concessions.

Economic growth can be achieved without sacrificing trees by increasing efficiency and productivity, Kuntoro said. “If we can improve that, we don’t have to expand the acreage,” to reach output expansion targets.

Indonesia aims to almost double palm oil production to 40 million tons a year by 2020 from 23.6 million tons last year. A recent study commissioned by the Jakarta-based UK Climate Change Unit shows that the country’s average yield of 2.7 tons of crude palm oil per hectare is far lower than 3.63 tons per hectare in Malaysia. The report further suggests that increasing productivity in this sector may triple farmer income and add US$4 billion to Indonesia’s GDP.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who made the groundbreaking commitment to cut emissions by 26 percent from business-as-usual levels by 2020 and up to 41 percent with global assistance, has also called on industry players to use degraded lands and turn them into high-return assets.

“I believe we can have as good tropical forests that we have now in Indonesia, 50 years from now,” said Kuntoro. “It all depends on whether we can implement our policy correctly and as planned in the next five years” and successfully turn Southeast Asia’s biggest economy into a new and sustainable development paradigm.