in Indonesia, Norway

Norway is planning to pay Indonesia for fudging its REDD carbon accounting

On 16 February 2019 in Jakarta, Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment, Ola Elvestuen, and Indonesia’s Minister of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, announced that Norway is planning to make a payment for reduced emissions from deforestation to Indonesia.

The payment is based on Indonesia’s figures for carbon emissions from deforestation, which fell in 2017. It would be the first payment for reduced emissions under the Norway-Indonesia US$1 billion REDD deal, signed in May 2010.

The director of Rainforest Foundation Norway, Øyvind Eggen, welcomed the news. In a statement he said that,

“This is fantastic news for the climate, for the world’s animal and plant species and for the millions of people who depend on these forests….

“We had not come this far today if it hadn’t been for the Norwegian International Climate and Forest Initiative. This collaboration has put rainforest conservation high on the political agenda in Indonesia, led to better forest management and strengthened the rights of those who protect the forests and whose livelihoods depend on them.”

The Norwegian Embassy in Jakarta put out a statement about the proposed payment. In it, Siti Nyurbaya states that the slower rate of deforestation is the result of policies put in place by President Joko Widodo:

“I am glad during the last four years, the Indonesian government led by President Joko Widodo has managed to undertake a series of corrective measures in the forest and land use sector. The bold measures have resulted in significant reduction of deforestation, forest degradation, as well as GHG emissions.”

The Norwegian Embassy’s statement explains that, an “independent third-party verification” of Indonesia’s emission figures will be carried out before the payment is made. According to Indonesia’s figures, the first payment would be for 4.8 million tons of CO2.

Indonesia will set aside 20% of the emissions reductions to account for uncertainty. The country will keep 15% to count towards its own emissions reduction target. Norway will pay for part of the emissions reductions and the remainder will be available to “other financiers”.

Emissions from peatlands excluded

The Norwegian Embassy’s statement includes an extraordinary admission about Indonesia’s figures of greenhouse gas emissions – the figures do not include emissions from peatlands:

Emission reductions from peat degradation and peat fires will be included in the results protocol in the near future, as estimates improve.

In other words, emissions from peatlands are not included in Indonesia’s figures for its greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s a problem, to say the least.

For the past 20 years, the palm oil industry has cleared vast areas of Indonesia’s forest and drained peat swamps to make way for its plantations. In a recent report, Greenpeace describes plantation development as “a root cause of Indonesia’s forest and peatland fires, with many fires started deliberately to clear land before planting”.

The exclusion of emissions from peatlands makes a mockery of Norway’s proposed “results-based payment”.

A spokesperson for the Norwegian Climate Ministry told Development Today that measuring emissions from peatlands is difficult. “Indonesia has done a great job in developing better methods and is making progress,” he said, adding that the figures “are not accurate enough to form the basis for payments.”

As Development Today comments, “If emissions from peatlands had been counted, there might be no basis for payment at all.”

A “crucial time”

In its article about the proposed payment to Indonesia, Development Today refers to a recent evaluation of the Indonesia-Norway US$1 billion REDD deal. The evaluation notes the reduced rate of tree cover loss (based on Global Forest Watch data) in 2017.

The evaluation report states that “while the effects of drought cessation cannot be ruled out entirely”, the reduction in deforestation “may well be due” to improvements in forest management.

An article on CIFOR’s Landscape News website also notes the role the weather played in Indonesia’s reduced deforestation, along with lower palm oil prices:

A wetter rainy season that helped dampen forest fires and lower palm oil prices, in turn diminishing incentives to develop more palm oil plantations, also contributed the country’s decrease in tree loss in 2017.

The evaluation report suggests that payments could start in 2019:

[I]f publicly committed in 2019, this first CfR [Contribution for Results] payment would raise awareness of the Indonesian response to the climate challenge in general, and of the Partnership and its work in particular, at a crucial time in the Indonesian and Norwegian electoral cycles.

This wouldn’t be the first time that Norway has timed its REDD payments to coincide with national elections. In 2015, Norway paid US$40 million to Guyana, just before the elections in that country. Indonesia’s elections will take place on 17 April 2019.

The evaluation report also suggests that a payment to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Letter of Intent for the US$1 billion REDD deal could “attract media attention”:

This would recognise the progress made and the recent decline in deforestation rate, maintain momentum, and raise awareness of the climate change response. A first results based payment would test the calculation, disbursement and distribution systems, and could also (especially if made on 26 May 2020, the LoI’s tenth anniversary) attract media attention. The implication is that 2019-2020 will be a decisive moment for which specific preparation is needed.


PHOTO Credits: Greenpeace: Indonesia’s forest fires – 19-21 September 2015.

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