The Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve is the only REDD project in Indonesia that has managed to sell any carbon credits. The project is dependent on continued sales of carbon credits, and on the price of carbon. Neither is certain.
Last week, Indonesian journalist Fidelis E. Satriastanti, wrote about the Rimba Raya REDD project for the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The people living in the village of Ulak Batu in Seruyan district told Satriastanti that they used to be fisherfolk. But when palm oil companies established plantations in the area, the Seruyan river was polluted, fish populations declined and many villagers looked for jobs as plantation workers. Catching fish they could earn about US$8 per day, but only US$5 per day working for palm oil companies.
No one asked the villagers whether they wanted the forests around their village converted to oil palm plantations. Neither, it seems, was there a process of free, prior and informed consent when a company called InfiniteEARTH arrived in 2009 to develop its REDD project in the Seruyan watershed.
Five years later, villagers still don’t understand either REDD or the carbon trade that is once again changing their livelihoods.
Syarian, the head of Ulak Batu village told Satriastanti,
“We want our forests back – ever since the oil palm plantation (was established) here, it is getting hotter and more floods are coming to our village. I don’t know about selling carbon but if it means forest conservation, all villagers would agree (to the REDD project).”
And Amri Aini, the head of Muara Dua village, said pretty much the same thing:
“We are not clever people… We only know that protecting forests is always a good thing so we will support it. We don’t know much about REDD – we only understand that it is supposed to protect the forests. It’s a positive move.”
Clearly, these villagers are not opposed to the Rimba Raya REDD project. But equally clearly, they did not give their free, prior and informed consent to the project. Presumably no one bothered to tell them that carbon trading allows greenhouse gas emissions to continue somewhere else.
The Rimba Raya project area is to the east of the Tanjung Puting National Park, an important habitat for orangutans, clouded leopards, sun bears and other endangered species. InfiniteEARTH’s Jim Procanik explains in a recent interview with Water Technology that the project is “the largest privately funded orangutan reserve in the world”. One of InfiniteEARTH’s project partners is Orangutan Foundation International. OFI was founded by Dr Biruté Galdikas a world expert on orangutans who has lived in Borneo for nearly 40 years. Procanik explains that,
“One of the reasons we chose this area was one of the founders [of Infinite Earth] got in contact with [Galdikas] and asked her, ‘What piece of land needs to be saved to help orangutans?’ And she identified this piece of land that is now called Rimba Raya.”
The REDD project is now up and running, after a series of bureaucratic delays and a reduction in the project area from 90,000 hectares down to 64,000 hectares. The project received approval from the Indonesian authorities in 2013.
According to Procanik, Rimba Raya has so far generated 10 million carbon credits, half of which have been sold. Satriastanti reports that the money raised is enough to keep the project going for the next two years.
Procanik describes the project as a “community development project”. Earlier this month, the project distributed Village Development Funds to four villages in Seruyan district. Ulak Batu plans to build a village hall. Another village, Palingkau, plans to build a multipurpose hall. Villagers in Telaga Pulan will use the money to buy laptops and Muara Dua villagers will buy cows. The project has set up a cookstoves pilot project. It is hiring villagers as forest monitors and has promised to buy tree seedlings from them to be used in a reforestation programme.
The project has also distributed water filters produced by a company called Nazava to 1,200 households in the area around the REDD project. Procanik explains that,
The water quality is not good. The river, where they get their water from is polluted by pesticides primarily and also by chemicals used in the mining of gold and other mining operations that are upriver. So what we found was that a lot of towns have stomach ailments, they’ll have bacterial infections, they’ll have various ailments that are due to the poor water quality.
But when Water Technology asked whether InfiniteEARTH has any plans to build larger scale water infrastructure, Procanik’s answer is revealing:
You know, it’s one of our dreams and it certainly would be a plan as soon as the markets for carbon improve. Our revenues are all based on carbon markets and at present forest carbon, which is the type of carbon we have is not included in any compliance market, which would be the California, or the north-east has one, and Europe its not included as well. However, plans are in the works for all of these to include forest carbon. When that happens the amount of revenues will jump considerably and that would allow us to work on you know more large scale infrastructure for clean water. Which is certainly what we’d love to do.
Procanik might be right. The price of REDD credits might increase if they are included in a compliance market. The UNFCCC might come up with a meaningful agreement on reducing emissions at its meeting in Paris in 2015. But I’m not holding my breath.
In the meantime, Procanik may want to check out the current price of carbon on the EU Emissions Trading System. Carbon credits from the UN clean development mechanism are currently changing hands for €0.12: