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Interviews about Ulu Masen, Indonesia: A REDD-labelled Protected Area

Interviews about Ulu Masen, Indonesia

The Ulu Masen project covers an area of 770,000 hectares in Aceh province in the north of Sumatra. The project aims to generate 3.3 million carbon credits a year to finance conservation and development projects for local communities. To find out more, REDD-Monitor interviewed Joe Heffernan of Flora & Fauna International and David Gaveau of the University of Kent in England.

The Ulu Masen project was developed by Fauna & Flora International (FFI), carbon trading firm Carbon Conservation and Aceh’s Governor Irwandi Yusuf. Merril Lynch has agreed to provide US$9 million over four years. It was the first REDD project to be accredited under the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards. John-O Niles, then-chief science and policy officer for Carbon Conservation, told Bloomberg that the project “will reduce emissions equivalent to Mexico’s annual greenhouse-gas output”. FFI says that the project “is expected to prevent 100 million tonnes of CO2 emissions over the next 30 years, the equivalent of 50 million flights from London to Sydney.”

But research published in November 2009 in Environmental Research Letters found that the project “may not significantly reduce deforestation in northern Sumatra”. The research team used satellite maps and modelled three future deforestation scenarios: no RED project; the Ulu Masen RED project in a new upland protected area; and an alternative arrangement that uses RED across landscapes outside protected areas. (The research did not look at forest degradation – see Gaveau’s comment, below.) The team’s models predicted that Ulu Masen project would save 1,313 square kilometres of upland forest by 2030, but an area of 7,913 square kilometres of forest outside protected areas would be destroyed. The alternative, of implementing REDD across all remaining forest landscapes outside protected areas, would save an area of forest covering a total of 7,824 square kilometres.

David Gaveau, who led the research team, told Environmental Research Web that

“Our study suggests . . . [the] initiative will not significantly reduce deforestation in northern Sumatra and will have little impact on orangutan conservation, because firstly a large amount of forest inside the proposed REDD project area is protected de facto by being inaccessible; and secondly much of northern Sumatra’s lowland forests will remain outside of REDD and will be exposed to the combined expansion of high-revenue oil palm plantations and road networks.”

REDD-Monitor’s interview with Joe Heffernan follows. Heffernan is Project Design Specialist, Environmental Markets Department, at Flora & Fauna International. Below that is a comment from David Gaveau clarifying his position and research findings. Carbon Conservation declined to answer REDD-Monitor’s questions.[1]

REDD-Monitor: On the FFI website is the statement that the Ulu Masen project “is expected to prevent 100 million tonnes of CO2 emissions over the next 30 years, the equivalent of 50 million flights from London to Sydney.” Could you please provide the assumptions underlying this statement and explain how the project came up with this figure.

Joe Heffernan: Carbon Conservation calculated the total avoided emissions tCO2-equivalent (VER equivalent) at 101,095,427, audited by the Rainforest Alliance. This figure is calculated on baseline carbon stocks and determined using a predicted deforestation summary and post-deforestation summary giving us total avoided emissions.

REDD-Monitor: Has the figure of 100 million tonnes of CO2 emissions been independently verified? If so, could you please send me a copy of the Verification Audit.

Joe Heffernan: The figure has been independently verified through a project design audit process under CCBA but we are preparing for a more rigorous audit under VCS and other relevant protocols.

REDD-Monitor: Has the project started trading carbon credits? If not, why not and when do you anticipate that the project will start to trade carbon credits?

Joe Heffernan: The project has not yet started to transact carbon credits. CCB does not accredit projects, so it is necessary to conduct a further validation process under the rigorous VCS guidelines for generating VERs. This work is presently being undertaken.

REDD-Monitor: I understand that FFI played a key role in setting up the Ulu Masen project. Could you please briefly describe how the project came into being and what FFI’s role was.

Joe Heffernan: FFI has been working in Aceh since 1997, through civil conflict and the tsunami. Since the tsunami, we have been supporting the Government of Aceh to mainstream sustainable environmental procedures into the economic and spatial development of the province.

We were approached by Carbon Conservation in 2006 in Australia to suggest suitable areas for piloting the new concept of REDD and were able to introduce their management to the Provincial authorities.

FFI provided support in preparing outline materials and socializing this very new concept within government. Since then, we have been providing financial and technical support to the provincial government to ensure that there will be a transparent, equitable and credible deal between the government and the private sector, whilst continuing to engage in community level consensus building around natural resource use, through the local mukim (adat) structure.

In addition, we have trained community rangers to begin monitoring forest use and assisting communities with issues such as human-wildlife conflict. In policy forums FFI has facilitated the government and key stakeholders to review forest zoning plans for the province and examine how to advance a green vision for the province, under the banner of Aceh Green. This is a government led initiative to provide a balanced approach to management of the environment with sensitive and strategic commercial investment.

REDD-Monitor: What will happen to the forest after 30 years, when the project comes to an end? How does the project address the fact that most of the CO2 emitted as a result of the carbon credits sold by the project will stay in the atmosphere far longer than 30 years?

Joe Heffernan: As part of the REDD process, the Ulu Masen area has been formally designated as a Strategic Use Area under the ‘Law on Governing Aceh (No.11/2006)’, and the Provincial Parliament. This will be a permanent designation. FFI views the Ulu Masen as a priority for Aceh well beyond its carbon value. The watershed, biodiversity and intrinsic values as well as its importance for local communities meant that we had prioritized conservation of this area long before the REDD concept was on the horizon.

REDD-Monitor: Recent research suggests that the Ulu Masen project will do little to reduce deforestation. How do you respond to this?

Joe Heffernan: We would refer you to the original calculations of expected avoided emissions. FFI feels we are able to achieve these reductions in deforestation and degradation. Our understanding is that the author of this report feels he has been misrepresented in the media on this issue. He has made contact with FFI to explain this position.

REDD-Monitor: What is the current status of the project? Is Merrill Lynch financing the project, despite the problems of the financial crisis? Has the Indonesian government approved the project?

Joe Heffernan: Our understanding is that the agreement between Merrill Lynch and the Government of Aceh is still in place. Project development funding is mainly being provided through FFI’s grant from a multi-donor trust fund at this stage. The Indonesian Government is fully behind this project and has been represented at recent International Project Steering Committee meetings. FFI cannot comment on the formal arrangements between the provincial and national authorities but understands the situation to be agreeable to both parties.

REDD-Monitor: Given that the Aceh Forest and Environment Project is running concurrently with the Ulu Masen project (and the AFEP will be extended beyond 2010), how can the Ulu Masen project be considered to be additional?

Joe Heffernan: At this stage, the AFEP project is still active and credits are not being claimed. The project life for AFEP is not decided at this point. We do not have any confirmation that AFEP will be extended beyond 2010. Therefore there is no other secured funding for this project. Demonstrating additionality requires the credit revenue to be the primary reason for reduction of emissions.

REDD-Monitor: Have the logging concessions in Ulu Masen been revoked? What is the latest situation regarding revoking these concessions? How much illegal logging is taking place in Ulu Masen?

Joe Heffernan: Logging concessions in the Ulu Masen are still suspended as a result of the 2007 logging moratorium. Presently, there is a province-wide forest redesign process instigated by the Governor called TIPERESKA. The findings of this process will provide recommendations on next steps for a revised spatial plan for the forest.

REDD-Monitor: At a side event in Poznan, Martin Berg of Merrill Lynch talked about the ownership of the carbon and mentioned that the legal aspects of projects like Ulu Masen is “tricky”. He also said that it’s “highly speculative” to get involved. Who actually owns the carbon stored in the forests of Ulu Masen?

Joe Heffernan: FFI acts to support the Government of Aceh to manage the natural resources of the province. The ownership of the carbon stock is, as ever, complex. I am sure you are aware of the ongoing discussions between local communities, provincial agencies and national governments on this issue and we are not in a position to comment. We are not mandated to make this decision.

REDD-Monitor: Has the project obtained the Free, Prior Informed Consent of the local communities living in and around Ulu Masen? If so, could you please explain how this consent was arrived at. If not, please explain why (and how) the project decided not to apply the FPIC principle.

Joe Heffernan: FFI is a strong advocate of the principle of Free, Prior, Informed Consent and we are promoting this ethos within all conservation partnerships with which we are involved. In Aceh FFI has been engaged in Mukim (traditional Acehnese local Governance system) empowerment and support for the past five years. We have built strong relationships throughout the Ulu Masen area with Mukims and this provides one framework for information and discussion on the options available. Design of community benefit sharing and involvement in project activities will be driven by communities who chose to participate once all the information is available to them.

REDD-Monitor subsequently asked David Gaveau, the lead author of the paper in Environmental Research Letters, to clarify the findings of the research in relation to Ulu Masen:

REDD-Monitor: Your paper in ERL states that “Our predictions suggest that Indonesia’s first RED initiative in an upland PA may not significantly reduce deforestation in northern Sumatra and would have little impact on orangutan conservation because a large amount of forest inside the project area is protected de facto by being inaccessible, while lowland forests will remain exposed to the combined expansion of high-revenue plantations and road networks.” This seems to me to be a pretty unambiguous statement. Could you please clarify how you feel you have been misrepresented in the media and please explain your position.

David Gaveau: I feel the summarizing article may have put too much emphasis on the limitations of Ulu Masen per se and not enough on the broader question of spatial scale (explained below) and on the resulting main argument of the paper that REDD should be implemented across the whole province to drastically reduce deforestation and conserve species in northern Sumatra. I feel, the summarizing article could have been entitled: “REDD schemes must cover more grounds to save forest in Indonesia” whereas the current and perhaps more controversial title: “REDD project unlikely to save forest in Indonesia” may have mislead the reader.

Our ERL paper did not address avoided forest degradation, whereas some parts of Ulu Masen have been logged with logging trail networks (see our maps in google earth format at This is the reason why we refer to RED and not REDD in the paper. We are now working to quantify degradation. But, the paper shows statistically that logging trails in the region as a whole did not attract plantations because much of the logging in Ulu Masen occurred on rugged terrain.

The primary aim of our ERL paper was to explore an important policy question for REDD: what is the right spatial scale for REDD implementation? The ERL paper questioned whether REDD should be implemented within well-defined areas of land, or whether it should be implemented across much larger spatial scales, for example a province or a nation. The first approach (often called “project” or “sub-national” approach) follows the most common conservation approach of restricting human access within the boundaries of a defined protected area. We are witnessing the birth of a new generation of REDD-labelled Protected Areas. The second approach follows a landscape level conservation approach. This second approach sees the landscape as a whole and works beyond protected areas and is not as common, because more difficult to implement. The ERL paper used the Ulu Masen REDD project case study and compared it to a landscape level conservation approach to illustrate the broader question of spatial scale and its implications to policy makers. The paper never intended to put the Ulu Masen REDD project in a bad light. As deforestation rates recover to pre-conflict levels of 1990s in Aceh province, any measure that secures the protection of Aceh’s forests from oil palm and illegal loggers deserves support. Ulu Masen is also an important habitat for biodiversity, including large charismatic mammals like elephants and tigers. But, the study did show quite clearly that the Ulu Masen project alone won’t probably be enough to save the vulnerable lowland forests of Aceh province and its flagship species, the Sumatran orangutan because this REDD project alone won’t be able to halt the expansion of oil palm and road networks in the region. Furthermore, large tracts of vulnerable lowland forests will remain outside the project and outside existing protected areas, and open to plantation development (it is already happening), which will increase the likelihood that deforestation might be displaced from the REDD project areas to forests outside projects (leakage), simply because the demand for agricultural products won’t go away. In Aceh, there is a contradiction between the establishment of the prominent Ulu Masen REDD project and the continuing expansion of roads and industrial oil palm plantations in the region. The paper addressed this contradiction. In broader terms, this case study illustrates the flaws of the implementation approach by project. REDD Projects cannot address the broader forces driving deforestation in the wider landscape because they operate at smaller scales. In turn, there is a high risk of leakage. If there is leakage carbon offsets won’t offset anything. Worse, C02 emissions will continue to rise. By contrast, the large-scale approach, whether national or provincial allows pursuit of a broad set of policies to address broader driving forces of deforestation. This approach also deals with leakage. The landscape level conservation approach presented in the ERL paper puts a halt to road and oil palm development outside recognized protected areas through direct compensation to land holders like companies and small-scale farmers.This approach also deals with leakage by securing a conservation deal across all remaining forests in the province.

Clearly, implementing the landscape approach is fraught with technical dificulties. For example, high transaction costs and investment risks appear to be major barriers to establishing carbon concessions across large, heterogeneous regions (Carlson and Curran in ERL 4 (2009) 031003 (3pp)). Identifying who should receive compensation as well as negotiating transparent and effective payment arrangements, is at best challenging especially with ambiguous land use rights and government jurisdiction in Indonesia.

Perhaps, a fatal flaw in the potential implementation of the landscape conservation approach is that carbon offset prices may have trouble competing with prices of agricultural commodities, for example palm oil. Demand for agricultural products won’t go away.

[1] I wrote to Dorjee Sun, CEO of Carbon Conservation on 27 October 2009. He replied the following day: “Hey Chris, am traveling can u give me a few days to revert?” I asked him to reply by 6 November 2009, if possible. On 10 November 2009, I received an email from Ralph Strebel at Carbon Conservation:

“Thank you for your questions about the Ulu Masen Ecosystem Avoided Deforestation Project. I have just recently returned from Aceh province. It came to my attention there that you had been in touch with other project stakeholders who when notes were compared, had received the same set of questions. It is my further understanding that those questions have been answered or are being answered as FFI is responding.”

I replied the following day (with a copy to Dorjee Sun), pointing out that two of my questions were specifically for Dorjee Sun, or someone else at Carbon Conservation to answer. That was three months ago. I’m still waiting for Carbon Conservation’s response.

Here, for the record, are the questions for Carbon Conservation:

1. To avoid runaway climate change, we need to stop burning fossil fuels AND stop deforestation. Selling forest carbon credits might protect the forests but it will guarantee that an equivalent amount of fossil fuel will be burned somewhere else. Industry is therefore allowed to continue business as usual, rather than making the necessary changes away from burning fossil fuels. How do you respond to this argument?

2. In April 2008, you were reported by ABC as saying that “the forest will be guarded by 1000 heavily-armed former Free Aceh rebels”. Is it true that the forest will be guarded by heavily-armed guards? Against whom are they guarding the forest?

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  1. saya kira hasil wawancara yang dilakukan sudah bagus dan dapat memberikan informasi tentang Ulu Masen di Aceh.

    saya ingin menyarankan agar hasilnya lebih maksimal mungkin langsung saja wawancara masyarakat adat yang ada disekitar kawasan ulu masen.

    karena saya adalah orang aceh mungkin saya dapat membantu


  2. @zulfikar – thanks for this comment (a rough translation is below). I agree that interviews with indigenous people and local communities in and around Ulu Masen (and other REDD-type projects) are crucially important. REDD-Monitor hopes to publish such interviews in the future.

    I think the results of interviews conducted was good and can provide information about the Ulu Masen in Aceh.

    I want to suggest that the maximum possible result more simply indigenous interviews surrounding Ulu Masen area.

    because I am the person I aceh may be helpful


  3. Its not such a total surprise if this poorly-designed project missed its target (to reduce ghg emission and protecting biodiversity) and its a shame when such brilliant opportunity have to fail due to lack of appropriate design and consultation.

    *indonesia R-plan is rather incomplete and unclear
    *large area of the project is within the boundary of the national park (which supposed to be managed by the department of forestry NOT the local acehnese government)
    *our brilliant Mr. Irwandi barely have any idea on what is REDD and how it supposed to work, the idea seems awesome to him and when carbon conservation offered the plan on his desk he just jumped in, without consulting the expert or at least, asking for second opinion. (maybe Aceh’s special autonomy status contribute to this recklessness).

  4. Dear Mr Lang and REDD Monitor Associates,

    I’m so very happy to see that someone is trying to keep track of what is REALLY happening in Ulu Masen! I have lived in Aceh since 1998 and helped found a local forest conservation oriented NGO there in 2000, along with the students and alumni of the local forestry school (STIK Banda Aceh).

    Our LNGO, Yayasan Peduli Nanggroe Atjeh, has maintained a rapport with FFI for many years, but it would seem that there are many processes that have yet to be undertaken/respected by FFI, including the full involement of credible LNGOs in the planning process, and/or, engaging the provincial parliament, which is the official representative of the People of Aceh.

    For the record in March 2003, following some 6 months of continuous lobbying prior to the Military State of Emergency in Aceh, I, as an individual, along with the Student Nature Lovers Association of the local forestry school campus, were awarded an official, and very much GLOWING, Letter of Recommendation by 58.2% of the membership of the Provincial Legislative Assembly of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam Province(then known as the DPRD NAD), for a concept named the “Productive Buffer Zone Concept”.

    I STILL maintain regular contact with the leadership of the now fully autonomous Provincial Parliament of Aceh (now called the DPR Aceh or DPRA). In 2008 Yayasan Peduli Nanggroe Aceh attended several meetings at the office of FFI Aceh, of which two were chaired by Mr. Robert Sillevis, who at that time was the Head of FFI Aceh.

    After the first meeting at the FFI office our organization receieved an email letter from Mr Graham Usher(who is an affiliate of FFI and at that time, was also a consultant for either AFEP or Tipereska) in which he acknowledged the viability of what we are proposing as the solution to bring about an end to illegal logging in the Ulu Masen forest area.

    At this point I should also like to mention that we were already well aware of the fact that what we are proposing is viable, because we had a very positive response from the Indonesian Minister of Forestry (Mr. Malam Sambat Kaban)when we made a presentation to him in his office in Jakarta on June 01 2005. That high-level meeting was attended by several director generals of his ministry, the UN-FAO and Mr. Mike Griffiths of the Leuser International Foundation. Sadly, the Minister never followed-up on his promise to help set-up a 200Ha trial or “pilot” PBZ project; but I’m quite confident that the meeting is on record (in the ledger of his personal secretary, a certain Mrs Sumi, if I am not mistaken).

    Unfortunately, some months after making a short visit to the field in the Subdistrict of Leupung (Aceh Besar District) with Mr. Sillevis and the Head of the District Forestry Office of Aceh Besar (a certain Mr. Adil, now Head of the Fisheries Office in that same District)like his predecessors, Mr Sillevis’ contract with FFI was terminated; as were the 6 persons who held that same position at FFI Aceh before him!

    Perhaps Mr. Sillevis’ termination had something to do with his willingness to support the PBZ concept? Again, the Productive Buffer Zone concept is clearly workable (especially in regard to its ability to keep chainsaws out of the protected forest and thereby assure that carbon credits can be ‘harvested’ indefinitely.

    However, it would seem that there are certain influential persons in Aceh who feel that local organizations should be kept out of the planning process. This might also include the DPRD/DPRA parliament, whom until this day, have never been properly informed about the intention (agreement?!)to sell carbon credits to Merril Lynch and Mr Dorjee Sun’s “start-up company” (Carbon Conservation)!

    I commend your efforts to keep track of what is really going-on in Ulu Masen, please do not stop……. for we intend to carry-on until this so very ‘foggy’ situation is properly sorted-out, by the DPRA. And hopefully, well before too much more of the forest is felled by the many-many illegal loggers that the much-expanded Forest Police Force in Aceh is so conveniently blind to.

    As for the “heavily-armed former rebels” who are guarding the forest… just try to make a trip (by jeep on fresh logging roads)into the upper reaches of the Lamsujeun Valley in Lhoong Subdistrict, Aceh Besar, and see who is unwilling to let you in. Please understand that not all former rebels in Aceh are illegal loggers, but the fact is that there are quite a few of of them operating in Ulu Masen!

    Why have things turned-out this way you ask? Quite simply, because FFI has failed to make an effort to open-up a meaningful rapport with “former rebels”, despite the fact that it is well within their mandate (awarded to FFI by the former-rebel governor himself) to do so (ie, create alternative livelihoods, such as tree crop farming). Is that not what LNGOs are for? I mean to build bridges between the Acehnese and INGOs with good intention.

    May all of this FACTUAL information help you, and other well intentioned persons and organizations, to steer this messy situation in the right direction. Wassalam

  5. So carbon conservation’s effort to save forest is more business arrangement than environmental? How is everything going? It’s horrible that if the forest conservation is not actually reducing emissions as stated in project design document that means more emission as a result of this REDD because of CER allowance given to someone else who will burn more. Who should do the validation? I think UNFCCC should regulate REDD as soon as possible both to reduce transaction cost (service cost) and also to ensure additionality.

  6. Hello again Chris,

    Hope that you are still keeping yourself updated on the overly well-promoted Ulu Masen project.

    I just had a look at the project area map in Carbon Conservation website and noticed that the subdistricts of Lhoong and Leupung (Aceh Besar District) are no longer a part of Ulu Masen. All this after FFI so strongly insisted that these two areas were part of the project area.

    Seems the governor’s team has continued to prioritize the ongoing yet often-delayed construction of the virtually useless Jantho-Lamno roadway project, and our friends at the well-funded foreign conservation NGO were unable to convince the governor to stop it.

    Alas, what can the small, well-intended and underfunded local players do? This apparent ‘shrinkage’ of the project’s target area raises yet another question: What exactly was the logic that was applied when FFI extended a small grant to an LNGO for the specific purpose of carrying-out a community mapping project in Leupung Subdistrict…. when the subdistrict is now no longer a part of the ‘Ulu Masen’ target area??

    And what will FFI and that Tibetan-Aussie businessman do if their mate is voted out of the governor’s chair at the end of 2011? Ask their ex-combatant elephant patrol rangers to lobby for them, whoever they are? I’ve yet to meet even one of them! And the leadership of the KPA in Pidie District (former ‘heartland area’ of GAM) has no working relationship with FFI, whatsoever.

    Perhaps you(Chris Lang) should come to Aceh to interview him and verify the facts about just how little interaction there really is between FFI and the MAJORITY of the ex-combatants in and around Ulu Masen. Please feel free to email me if you’d like to do so, I’m an environmentalist who is always ready to help get the truth out!

    There was a time when I believed in the integrity of the world’s oldest conservation organization, but that time has passed; well at least until they are ready to accept LNGO’s as their equals.


    Mark Van den Berg

  7. I just wish they soon realize how important it is to protect the beautiful nature in Aceh for the sake of our future generation!!

    As for Mark Van Den Berg, I’m so glad to know that you still exist in caring for Aceh…I know how much effort you have put in to it, I salute you for doing so. would love to hear from you to know a lots of new things has going on in Aceh.

    Take care!!