in Indonesia

Norway admits that “We haven’t seen actual progress in reducing deforestation” in Indonesia

IndonesiaSix years ago, Norway and Indonesia signed a US$1 billion REDD deal. This week the Financial Times published an article about how the attempts to preserve Indonesia’s forests are going. The only good news is that in more than 3,800 words, Pilita Clark, the FT journalist, doesn’t mention REDD once.

The article follows Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s climate and environment minister, as he travels from Oslo via Jakarta to a village in East Kalimantan.

“The stakes are incredibly high in Indonesia,” Helgesen tells Clark on the plane to Jakarta. “If Indonesia can save its forests, it will massively increase the chance of saving the world’s climate.”

Of course, Norway’s REDD money comes from its oil industry. And on the first day of the UN climate meeting in Paris last year, Norway’s prime minister, Erna Solberg, announced that Norway is keen to include rainforests in future emissions markets, so that Norway can claim to be “carbon neutral”.

If Norway buys REDD credits from Indonesia to allow continued drilling of oil in Norway, saving Indonesia’s forests will not increase the chance of saving the world’s climate at all. It will at best move the emissions source from Indonesia to Norway.

Unfortunately, Clark’s article makes no mention of oil (other than palm oil), fossil fuels, or the perils of carbon trading.

Indonesia has not reduced its deforestation

Helgesen acknowledges that, so far, Indonesia has failed to reduce deforestation.

“We would obviously have hoped things would have progressed more quickly. We haven’t seen actual progress in reducing deforestation.”

So far, of the US$1 billion that Norway has offered to Indonesia for reduced deforestation, only US$60 million has been handed over.


In Jakarta, Clark, the FT’s journalist, speaks to Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, ex-head of Indonesia’s REDD+ Task Force, the predecessor to Indonesia’s REDD+ Agency, formed in September 2013. Kuntoro explains that it is his fault that so little money has been transferred. In Indonesia, Kuntoro says, “enemy number one is corruption”.

“The second I became head of the task force, I told the Norwegian ambassador here: ‘Please allow me not to take your money before I can assure myself it will not be misused.’”

Kuntoro says that if the money became part of Indonesia’s national budget, politicians would have insisted that it went to consulting firms and companies in which they had an interest. He also didn’t want the money to go to the Ministry of Forestry, which he describes as “the crux of the problem”.

One of President Jokowi’s first action when he was elected in 2014 was to merge the ministries of environment and forestry. The REDD+ Agency was swallowed up by the new Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

Slow progress: “One map” and indigenous land rights

The article discussed the problems of overlapping concessions throughout Indonesia and discusses the country’s efforts to develop “one map”, noting that “progress has been slow”.

In May 2013, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court made an important ruling recognising indigenous peoples’ right to forest land that had previously been classed as “State Forest Areas”. But the government has still not implemented the constitutional court ruling. AMAN (the Indonesian Indigenous Peoples Alliance) has a petition asking the House of Representatives to adopt a Bill on Recognition and Protection the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


Clark meets Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Minister of Environment and Forestry and asks her why progress has been so slow on reducing deforestation. She replies that Jokowi is a forester and she is an environmentalist and that Indonesia needs infrastructure.

“We have a very big challenge on the development due to overcoming poverty, due to providing infrastructure. Because Indonesia has a huge area coverage and we have been struggling a lot on this infrastructure development. But it doesn’t mean that we are destroying the environment or forests.”

None of which goes anywhere near explaining why 2.6 million hectares of Indonesia’s peatlands went up in flames last year. The World Bank estimates the cost of the fires at US$16 billion, at least. The threat of more peat fires remains.

When he met the Norwegian team in Jakarta, President Jokowi said he will ban the clearing and draining of undisturbed peatland from 1 June 2016. Helgesesn describes this as a potentially “monumental” contribution.

A trip to East Kalimantan

The Norwegians and their journalist travel to the village of Merabu in East Kalimantan. On the way, they visit a plantation run by a subsidiary of the Triputra Agro Persada group. In 2013, investigators from the Environmental Investigation Agency found the company clearing an area of closed-canopy forest, “holding rare species of flora and fauna including ulin, or ironwood, and gibbons”.


They get to Merabu, where The Nature Conservancy is working, helping villagers “on to a greener growth path”. The next day Helgesen adopts a tree and then it’s back to the airport to fly home.

Clark reports on a conflict with a palm oil company. The company has a legal permit to clear the forest, but the Merabu villagers say the company is clearing forest on their land. They are demanding compensation of US$100,000 for the trees the company has cut down.

Another two years…

Clark asks Helgesen whether he can imagine that Indonesia will reduce its rate of deforestation. She writes that she is surprised when he “turns out to be an optimist”. I’m rather less surprised. The Norwegian government issues rose tinted glasses for all of its staff working on forestry issues in Indonesia.

Nevertheless, Helgesen acknowledges that, “We’ve spent six years in this partnership not getting there.” That in itself is a huge admission. “In another two years we really should be there.” Helgesen doesn’t say what might happen after two more years of failure.

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  1. Reducing deforestatation, to my knowledge as a forester, definitely is not easy. Conflict of and cartelling interest, un-organized sectors, unclear distribution of authority between central- and local government, among others, contributed significantly to the problem.