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Carbon, crime and impunity in Indonesia’s plantation sector

Carbon, crime and impunity in Indonesia's plantation sectorCentral Kalimantan is the REDD Pilot Province under the Indonesia-Norway US$1 billion REDD deal. Here, if anywhere, we should see the evidence of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s recent statement that “Indonesia has reversed course by committing to sustainable forestry.” Unfortunately, the evidence points to business as usual.

A report released this week by the Environmental Investigation Agency and Telapak reveals what business as usual in Central Kalimantan looks like. Six years ago, PT Suryamas Cipta Perkasa (PT SCP), an Indonesia oil palm company, received preliminary approval for a plantation in Central Kalimantan. That should have been the start of a process of licensing and environmental approvals before clearing the forest and planting oil palm could start. Instead, the company just cleared the forest, drained the peat swamp and planted oil palm.

In March 2012, EIA and Telapak submitted evidence to the Indonesian authorities about the various laws that PT SCP had broken. The company has converted more than 23,000 hectares of peatland and peat swamp forest to oil palm, in the process, “destroying the livelihoods of local communities, the habitat of hundreds of endangered orangutans, and generating millions of tonnes of carbon emissions”, EIA and Telapak note.

But four months later, the authorities have taken no action, and trucks laden down with oil palm kernels continue to make the overnight drive from the plantation to PT SCP’s palm oil mill in Sampit. EIA and Telapak note that their meetings with Indonesian officials reveal “a worrying picture … of a bureaucracy struggling to enforce its own laws”.

EIA and Telapak’s dossier evidence submitted to the authorities in March 2012, can be downloaded here (pdf file 3.7 MB). The report, “Testing the Law”, can be downloaded here.

EIA and Telapak produced a short film about PT SCP’s plantation:

EIA and Telapak note that PT SCP is far from the only company operating illegally in Central Kalimantan:

During investigations into a number of illegal plantation companies in Central Kalimantan, PT SCP emerged as the clearest and most egregious case. The evidence EIA/Telapak delivered to the GoI in March 2012 presents a clear test of its ability to enforce the law.

PT SCP is part of the PT Best Agro International Group, which is privately owned by the Indonesian Tjajadi family. Reuters analysed the satellite images of the concession area from 2004 to late 2011. During this period, the area of forest declined from 17,600 hectares to just over 2,100 hectares. Clearing started in September-November 2006 and continued to 2009. The company cleared the forest without receiving a forest clearance permit from the Ministry of Forestry.

In a press release, EIA Forests Campaigner Tom Johnson said:

“This case clearly demonstrates the gulf between the rhetoric on reducing deforestation and the reality on the ground. The Government has been aware of the illegality for years but has demonstrated no intent to do anything to protect the environment or the local community in line with the law.

“Companies such as PT SCP are operating with extraordinary levels of impunity. A key reason for that is because government officials don’t appear to feel they have any obligation to enforce the law.

“The state bureaucracy is prioritising the continuing operation of plantations over enforcement of the law. As a consequence, progressive elements of the Government are pushing for reforms and new legislation that are simply being undermined.”

In the report, EIA and Telapak note that the area of peat drained by PT SCP is approximately the same area as the area of peat that may be re-flooded under the Australian-funded Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership:

The crimes committed by PT SCP have effectively written-off a substantial portion of any climate gains that might be made in the KFCP project before they have even occurred – highlighting how effective law enforcement may well present a cheaper, faster and more effective mode of doing REDD+ in Indonesia than isolated REDD+ demonstration projects.


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  1. Some quotes should be referred as stated by the President. Not just u’r point of interest.

    “According to one estimate, among the 20 largest economies in the world, 15 are in a position of ecological footprint deficit. Among others, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Russia and Indonesia are in a state of ecological footprint surplus. Only by turning ecological footprint deficit into surplus can we achieve a “sustainable life”.

    “Carbon market is already established – even though its work is still far from what was initially expected.”

    “Unfortunately, not all developed countries which are the emitters of greenhouse gas have agreed to the Kyoto Protocol. And the fact remains : many developed countries have failed to fulfill their commitments which were agreed in Kyoto”

  2. @Lingukungan Aceh – Thanks for this. President Yudhoyono said all sorts of things in his speech at CIFOR. The full speech is available here. The point is that he said lots of nice things, but what he said and the reality on the ground are two completely different things.

    Looking at the three quotations you selected:

    1. I’m not sure which estimate Yudhoyono is referring to, but I’d be very surprised if any estimate that describes Canada as in a state of “ecological footprint surplus” has taken into account fully the impact of logging on Canada’s forests, or the impact of tar sands extraction.

    2. I have no idea what point Yudhoyono was trying to make when he referred to carbon markets in his speech at CIFOR. Yes, carbon markets exist but they have utterly failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    3. The Kyoto Protocol is pathetically weak. And yes, even so developed countries have failed to meet their commitments.

    I agree with you that the North has a responsibility to address climate change. However, I fail to see what any of these quotations has to do with the fact that the Indonesian authorities have failed to address this case of illegal clearing of forest and peatswamps. If anything, your choice of quotations just reinforces the argument that Yudhoyono has perfected the art of saying the right thing while doing little to actually implement anything that might lead to meaningful change.

  3. Please, I beg of you, keep reporting and exposing environmental and humanitarian crimes. But never let there be any doubt, that the idea of carbon credits is any better than if I eat a salad and say, that now, I am entitled to eat dessert, because it won’t make me fat, and Norway is buying it. Have you looked at Norway? Nothing easier than to pull the wool over the heads of the good people of Norway. They trust you….