Climate Action

‘Forest’ definition hinders REDD progress in Indonesia

Report claims that REDD+ policy is not efficiently halting carbon emissions in Indonesia following 'forest' confusion.

  • 26 August 2010
  • Simione Talanoa

A report published by the World Agroforestry Centre (CGIAR) has announced that one third of Indonesia's greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation actually come from areas which are not officially designated as "forest". This has led to concern over the success of the UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) project if carbon output is not being measured throughout the entire country.

The amount of carbon emissions which "occur outside institutionally defined forests" and are therefore not recognized by the REDD+ scheme could be as high as 600 million tonnes, according to the report. If implemented, the REDD+ policy would allow Indonesia to benefit from REDD credit exchange with developed nations through the protection of its rainforests and peat lands.

However, the REDD+ policy in Indonesia has been plagued by problems regarding what actually constitutes "forest" area. One main reason for this is the lack of a globally agreed definition of forest. Tropical forests have high natural diversity, but are also subject to a wide range of human intervention. In practice the same word can have a range of meanings.

The forestry sector in Indonesia is seeking for plantations to be re-classified as forests but this would enable carbon finance subsidizing of the conversion of 'degraded' forests and woodlands into industrial timber and palm oil plantations. Such acts could emit stored carbon and negate any reductions already recorded.

By some estimates, Indonesia is the world's third largest greenhouse gas emitter – 80 per cent of its emissions resulting from deforestation and peat swamp degradation. If current trends continue, the report claims that carbon stocks outside of institutional forests could be depleted by 2032. The 'leakage' or deforestation displaced from areas protected from exploitation could be accountable for these emissions.

The report states, "If carbon emissions from outside the institutional forest are accounted for, it becomes clear that there are no net emission reductions in Indonesia."

In order to avoid this outcome of no net emission reductions in Indonesia, the CGIAR report proposes the use of a more comprehensive carbon accounting system, namely Reducing Emissions from All Land Uses (REALU).

The report states, "REALU can more effectively reduce net emissions, and ensure more locally-appropriate reduction activities… A REALU approach can overcome unclear forest definitions and help capture leakage of emissions between sectors."

The REALU definition proposes the inclusion of all transition in land cover that effect carbon storage, whether peat land, mineral soil, agroforests, plantations or natural forest. It does not, therefore, depend on the operational definition of 'forest' as currently applicable to UN policies.

"REDD+ design in Indonesia may require a serious rethinking," the report states. "It may also bring the international REDD+ design back to the drawing board, particularly in light of arguments for a comprehensive approach to emission reduction from agriculture."

However, despite problems relating to forest categorization, the REDD+ scheme, which aims to reach beyond REDD to provide lasting aid in the conservation and sustainability of ecosystems and communities, has been central to attempts at mitigating deforestation in developing regions since its inception in 2007 and was applauded at COP15 in Copenhagen last year.


Author: Tom Watts | Climate Action

Images: Ai@ce | Flickr