in Indonesia

Recent academic review describes REDD readiness in Indonesia as a “failure”

The REDD+ readiness phase leading up to implementation has been slow and has fallen short of expectations.

Interviews with key stakeholders (officials, donors, NGOs, village representatives) and data from household surveys suggest that efforts have been concentrated at the central level, with the provincial level mainly feeding data into the process and the local level practically left to its own devices.

Furthermore, the REDD+ design may be misguided as it exempts the major stakeholders, namely the state and private enterprises, from declaring emissions sub-targets in the national carbon reduction action plans, and focuses exclusively on rural forest dwellers who struggle to understand the ideas that underpin REDD+.

These three quotations are from the abstract of a recent paper published in Climate and Development, titled, “Lost in implementation? REDD+ country readiness experiences in Indonesia and Vietnam”.

The paper is written by Thorkil Casse (Roskilde University, Denmark), Anders Milhøj (Copenhagen University, Denmark), Martin Reinhardt Nielsen (Copenhagen University), Henrik Meilby (Copenhagen University), and Yanto Rochmayanto (Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Jakarta, Indonesia).

This post looks at the authors’ findings in Indonesia.

The paper analyses REDD performance in Indonesia from 2010 to 2017. While it’s written in a dry academic style, it’s a pretty devastating critique of the failure of REDD in Indonesia.

The authors spoke to government officials, aid agencies, and NGOs in Indonesia.

UN-REDD started in Indonesia in 2009. The authors note that,

UN-REDD measured the success of REDD+ in the partner countries according to the completion of reports on national forest inventories, action plans and reference emission levels, and not actual REDD+ activities on the ground.

The authors spoke to someone at the Norwegian embassy in Jakarta who admits that Norway has hesitated to get involved in the “bumpy journey” of REDD in Indonesia:

Norway promised to transfer 1 billion $ US if REDD+ initiatives were to pay off in terms of decreasing deforestation rates, but in reality the Norwegian government hesitated to get involved in what they characterized as ‘a bumpy journey’ in Indonesia. To date, Norway has only disbursed approximately 8% of its pledged funds to Indonesia (Norwegian embassy, personal communication).

Optimism about REDD slowly evaporated

The authors take a look at the REDD debate globally, and write that,

At the beginning of the REDD+ readiness period, more observers were optimistic about the potential outcomes. Observers initially concluded that international civil society, businesses and local communities were concerned about forest rights and investment security, and that this increased the odds of ending up with good governance and REDD+ legitimacy. Moreover, REDD+ strategies were seen as potentially able to combine the mitigation of carbon emissions, poverty reduction for millions of poor people, and the promotion of biodiversity conservation.

This early optimism quickly gave way to highlighting the “challenges inherent in REDD”. In the context of REDD, the word “challenges” is looking more and more like a euphemism for insurmountable structural problems:

A couple of years later, the optimism had slowly begun to evaporate, and today observers tend to underline the challenges inherent in REDD+. Concerns have emerged about how to specify the drivers of deforestation, define forest services, and reach a better understanding of existing benefit-sharing schemes such as Payment for Ecosystem Services. Without a proper actor analysis at the national level that includes the agents responsible for deforestation, carbon emission reductions are unlikely to materialize….

[L]ack of good governance and administrative capacity could neutralize any achievements in the establishment of a well-functioning MRV system. REDD+ programs furthermore fall short in terms of addressing the drivers of deforestation; training courses in REDD+ countries are ad hoc and of poor quality; and little attention is paid to making REDD+ functional at the subnational level.

The authors note that neither UN-REDD nor the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility has made enough effort to talk with local communities about REDD:

Benefit-sharing schemes and social safeguards require local experience and involvement, but neither of the two main international organizations, the UN-REDD or the FCPF, arranged meetings or discussed these issues with locals.

The authors write that, “The most notable policy intervention is the government’s declaration of a moratorium on forest conversion in 2013, which is still in force.” Unfortunately, they do not discuss the flaws in the moratorium, or the fact that it has failed to address deforestation.

In Indonesia, the authors found that many REDD projects have, “shifted from their core objective to reduce emissions in the future, to a focus on multi-stakeholder interaction that emphasizes reconciling opposing user preferences when it comes to the exploitation of forest resources. In socioeconomic settings where conflicts had been simmering for a long time, the arrival of the REDD+ projects had little to offer.”

The Berau Forest Carbon Program

The authors spoke to people in four villages in Berau district in East Kalimantan, where The Nature Conservancy is running the Berau Forest Carbon Program.

In East Kalimantan, they write, villagers joined the REDD project because they persuaded The Nature Conservancy to act as a mediator in forest rights conflicts.

The authors planned to find out villagers’ attitudes to REDD, and compare their strategies before and after REDD project developers had implemented benefit sharing schemes, or had explained forest rights under REDD. “However,” they write, “in none of the sites we visited had REDD+ activities taken off yet.”

REDD project developers had identified target forest areas but the authors found “no monitoring of forest cover over time or assessment of household compliance with rules (rules are often only explained verbally)”.

In the four villages that they visited in Berau district the authors found that in general villagers were “totally unacquainted with the implications of the REDD+ program”.

They found that in only one of the four villages, more than half of the people living there recognised that crop farming was not allowed inside REDD forests. Forest protection existed in this village “well before” any discussion about REDD.

The authors note that there is a risk of falling short of the Paris Agreement targets if the drivers of deforestation are not addressed. In Indonesia, this includes major forest destroyers such as plantation, logging, and mining companies. Yet the design of REDD focusses on restricting the activities of poor forest dwellers.

They write that,

Problems with forest management in East Kalimantan centre on conflicts over access to land. REDD+ programs will have to broaden the inclusion of stakeholders, and include foreign mining or logging firms, in order to solve these conflicts. In general, in REDD+ programs relationships are currently only designed to articulate between the global level (donors), the government and the local people. We are not familiar with any REDD+ program that allows the voice of large corporations to modify the general picture of a REDD+ program.

The criticism that REDD focusses on local communities and restricts their activities in an attempt to reduce deforestation is valid. But including corporations as “stakeholders”, and allowing them “to modify the general picture of a REDD+ program” seems naive, particularly given the corrupt and destructive nature of some of the biggest forest destroyers in Indonesia.

Meanwhile, REDD has failed to address tenure issues. The authors note that land tenure conflicts are common in Indonesia. Almost none of the villagers in the four villages they visited had deeds demonstrating ownership of forest plots.

The authors found that deforestation had increased in three of the four villages they visited in the Berau REDD project area:

Because the UN and the World Bank never initiated real local REDD+ activities and, if anything, only partially focused on forest monitoring, and because most of the forest was outside the reach of REDD+ policy interventions anyway, the continuing loss of forest in these sites cannot be ascribed to policy failures within the REDD+ programs. However, the data show that two sites in Indonesia (Merabu and Long Duhun) fared quite well in forest protection. In both villages, forest protection preceded the idea of REDD+. Conflicts are more open in Long Duhun, and the NGO ‘The Nature Conservancy’ seeks to mediate between the villagers and the local mining and logging firms. In Long Duhung, households were very reliant on access to forest products. A threat from a neighboring palm oil plantation could change the relative calm in Merabu in the future.

REDD readiness in Indonesia is a “failure”

The authors describe the REDD readiness phase in Indonesia as a “failure” and give two possible explanations of this:

  • For a long time – six to seven years in fact – international objectives for capacity building have placed a strong emphasis on procedural policy tools, such as the development of steering committees, training and outreach, which were often treated as end goals in themselves.
  • The primary goals of stopping deforestation and promoting transparent governance appear to have been overlooked in the frantic race to reach the implementation phase.

The authors suggest that external and independent monitoring might have addressed the main issues. Then they ask “whether the REDD+ track record is so poor already that no optimism can be mustered to save the model”.

They argue that the main problem with REDD is not technical, but “the contrast between the global governance model and the national political reality. Political will to address deforestation drivers is crucial if REDD+ national policies are to stand a chance of succeeding.”

The authors write that Indonesia shows “little sign of modifying its initial business-as-usual approach”.

PHOTO Credit: Oil palm concession, Riau province, Sumatra, Indonesia, by Hayden Llewellyn, 2007.

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  1. Nothing said about Central Kalimantan? As I recall officially designated by the Central Govt as REDD Pilot Province?

  2. @Lars-Gunnar Blomkvist – Good point. In their paper, the authors focussed on the Berau Forest Carbon Program. They mention Central Kalimantan in passing:

    In one NGO-managed project in central Kalimantan (Howson & Kindon, 2015) and another in East Kalimantan (our field area), local villagers were unable to influence the provincial administration in what they saw as dubious deals with developers. Villagers joined the REDD+ project either because it gave them access to financial capital (central Kalimantan), or because they succeeded in persuading the NGO in question to act as a mediator in forest rights conflicts (East Kalimantan). In other projects, REDD+ readiness activities came to a halt due to local resistance, because villagers feared they could lose their land as a result of a survey of existing boundaries. Examples include an Australian-funded project in Central Kalimantan (Agung, Galudra, van Noordwijk, & Maryani, 2014; Howell, 2015), and a review of a UN-REDD project in Central Sulawesi (Howell, 2015).

    Agung, P., Galudra, G., van Noordwijk, M., & Maryani, R. (2014). Reform or reversal: The impact of REDD+ readiness on forest governance in Indonesia. Climate Policy, 14, 748–768.

    Howell, S. (2015). Politics of appearances: Some reasons why the UN-REDD project in central Sulawesi failed to unite the various stakeholders. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 56, 37–47.

    Howson, P., & Kindon, S. (2015). Analysing access to the local REDD+ benefits of Sungai Lamandau, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 56, 96–110.

  3. I am sorry but the writers seem to have a biased view on REDD+ progress. Instead on seeking more update information especially in KLHK itself, but the information also wrong in terms of the data. One of them is that Norway has disbursed 13% rather than 8% on REDD+ Readiness in Indonesia (the data can be checked in NICFI website!), also there are lots of recent publication that can be used to update their data (see publication/document archive in To fully understand what the writers means than this news should also attach link to its original paper. Rather than seeking attention in a wrong way and to convoy public opinion in Indonesia efforts on implementing REDD+, we should also conduct deep research, seeking potential stakeholders and interviewees to seek a “helicopter view” inputs from all perspective so that we can see the bigger picture. Thankyou

  4. Although as a co-author, my contribution in the article was in forest right perspective only, and not responsible to the other issues (the linkages between local, national, and global perspective of REDD+ governance), however, I need to clarify at least as follow:

    1. The website quoted very selective from the article. We are not in the ‘blame’ business and the website also refers to paras where the article practically frank in the critique of REDD+. The whole article, we actually criticized the REDD+ concept based on our experiences from data collection in Indonesia and Vietnam. The article conclusion ends by raising the issue of an ill-constructed global governance model that fails to reflect the reality on the ground.

    2. Because of a selective quotation, and then adding the headline “REDD+ Readiness in Indonesia as a failure”, this was completely generalizing our study sites conducted in Berau. Therefore, the citations makes misleading information and tend to greatly lead opinion that the REDD+ readiness in Indonesia is failure. Whereas the journalist loses our main substance in the form of the REDD+ global governance.

    We greatly hope that website menegement should confirm to the authors yet before summarizing.

    Thank you.

  5. @Yanto Rochmayanto – Thanks for this comment. I’m a little surprised that you accuse me of selectively quoting from the paper you co-authored. As I pointed out in the post above, I focussed on what your paper has to say about Indonesia and I therefore excluded what you wrote about Vietnam. Surely you agree that your paper is critical of the REDD readiness process in Indonesia?

    The abstract of your paper (which I quote in the first three sentences of the post above) is only critical of REDD readiness. It doesn’t have anything good to say about REDD readiness. Here’s the abstract in full:

    The headline came from the first sentence in the Conclusions of your paper. True, I’ve highlighted the fact that your paper describes REDD readiness as a “failure” in Indonesia and Vietnam by putting it in the headline, but you cannot deny that the paper quite prominently describes REDD readiness as a failure:

  6. Thank you for your kind answer.

    Yes, but in the context REDD+ concept as a global governance model. So, the full meaning is the concept of REDD+ readiness failed to take place in the ground (case of Berau in Indonesia, and particular place in Vietnam) since a strong emphasize on procedural policy tools in international objective, and less accommodating national and sub national realities.

    Thank you.