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Indonesia's new forest agency head expected to speed reform

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 8 Jan 2014 10:46 AM
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Preservation of forests like these on the island of Lombok is likely to get a boost with the appointment of a new head for Indonesia's REDD+ Agency. TRF/Amantha Perera
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COLOMBO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The recent appointment of a new head for Indonesia’s fledgling REDD+ Agency, tasked with reducing climate-changing emissions from deforestation, is expected to accelerate tree planting and other efforts to protect forests in the Southeast Asian nation, as well as raising more funds for this work.

On Dec. 20, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono appointed Heru Prasetyo - a former management consultant - to lead the agency, which was set up in September. The body to implement the U.N. REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) programme is a key part of Indonesia’s plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2020, and is backed by a Norwegian aid pledge of $1 billion.

Prasetyo also served as secretary to Indonesia’s REDD+ Task Force, a precursor to the new agency, of which he is the first head.

“We will now have $170 million available from the Norwegian funding to carry out work in the next two to three years,” Prasetyo told Thomson Reuters Foundation. The agency will look at urgent reforms to the ownership and usage of Indonesia’s forests, he added.

Since Norway announced its funding pledge in 2010, only around $40 million has been disbursed, primarily to set up the new agency, according to Norwegian officials.

“The delay in setting up the REDD+ Agency was one of our main concerns,” said Norway’s ambassador to Indonesia, Stig Traavik.

The REDD+ Agency was meant to have been established by the end of 2012. But it proved difficult to get all the ministries with an interest in forests to agree on the agency’s mandate. The Ministry of Forestry only gave its approval after winning the consent of the other ministries.

Indonesia now has a national institution directly under the president’s authority and with cross-department support that can seek funding for specific projects, Traavik said.

The agency is tasked with formulating forest management policies that will slow Indonesia’s rate of deforestation and help achieve its ambitious emissions target. It will draft and implement plans for a national REDD+ strategy, while promoting REDD+ as a vital part of government policy.

‘NO CHANGE OVERNIGHT’

The release in November of a high-resolution global map of forest extent, loss and gain, put together by a team led by University of Maryland researchers, showed that Indonesia had the world’s largest increase in forest loss between 2000 and 2012. It more than doubled its annual loss during the study period to nearly 20,000 square kilometers (7,722 square miles) in 2011-2012.  

However, the forest ministry said researchers had over-estimated the loss of forest cover, because they included timber harvesting in areas that would later be restored, the Jakarta Post reported.

Prasetyo stressed that change in Indonesia’s land use practices cannot be achieved overnight. Forest preservation needs to be treated as an integral part of development, and forest policy must discourage over-exploitation and deforestation, said the official, who also served as deputy head of the Indonesian President’s Delivery Unit for Development Monitoring and Oversight.

Forest ownership also needed to be clarified, with communities living nearby given an important stake, he added. For these reasons, it is important to start work at ground level, Prasetyo emphasised.

A priority for the REDD+ agency will be to take new policies and practices to the district authorities, an administrative division just above village level. That would include having local bodies monitor, assess and keep track of forest usage and its impacts.

“First we will test policies to see how effective they are at district level, then move up. We also envisage setting specific goals for specific years,” said Prasetyo.

REGIONAL PARTNERSHIPS?

Another reason for the slow disbursement of Norwegian funds has been barriers to action at district level, according to Traavik.

“It is very important for us that we implement the right policies,” he said. That means making forest preservation a key part of sustainable development, rather than allowing more forest to be cleared whenever businesses want more land.

The Norwegian ambassador said he is hopeful that Indonesia’s 2020 emissions target can be met, and that the REDD+ agency will be able to extend a moratorium on clearing new land for commercial use, which expires in 2015.

Prasetyo said regulations governing forest use and data collection on related areas need to be improved, especially at district level. “We are in a transition phase on land use now, and we need to carry out a delicate balancing act,” he said.

That balancing act is to shift away from forest land-use practices that have been dominated by profit margins in the logging, farming and palm oil sectors, and to put sustainable use of natural resources at the centre.

Other goals are to ensure that the dividends from policy reforms are spread evenly among all those who depend on forests, including indigenous communities, and that reforms do not impact negatively on people’s livelihoods, Prasetyo said.

Traavik said the Norway-Indonesia partnership to reduce emissions from deforestation could be a catalyst for similar types of cooperation if successful.

Norway has already discussed the possibility of cooperating with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on emissions reduction initiatives, Traavik said.

Last year’s massive forest fires – mainly in Indonesia - provided a glimpse of the impact a changing climate could have on the region, he added, noting that governments are recognising the limits of national efforts.

“The regional implications are very clear,” he said. “We will explore how we can work together, and as ASEAN moves closer economically and politically, there is a very good chance of working as a region.”

Amantha Perera is a freelance writer based in Sri Lanka. He can be followed on Twitter at @AmanthaP 

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