Imagining Indonesia: A Requiem for Benedict Anderson

Two short weeks before we left for Indonesia, a man quietly passed away in his sleep in the mountain town of Batu, East Java. He was not Indonesian, but rather, an Irish citizen who had spent much of life away from his country of official residence—he was born in China, spent his early childhood in California, when to school in England, and received his doctorate from Cornell. Perhaps, then, as someone who knew so many different ways to belong to a nation, it is fitting that the man, Benedict Richard O’Gorman Anderson, became one of the most influential analysts of the conception of nations and nationalism in the past forty years.

Anderson’s work was deeply rooted in Southeast Asia, with a special focus on Indonesia. His doctoral work in the late 1960s focused on Indonesia, and his most well-known book, Imagined Communities, spends a considerable amount of time examining the genesis of Indonesian nationalism during the later decades of Dutch colonial rule of the archipelago. Anderson saw in Indonesia a microcosm of the development of the idea of the nation throughout the world. Before the Dutch came, Indonesia really was a fiction. The kings of Java and Bali, the sultans of Aceh, the Toraja chiefs in Sulawesi, the Dayak elders in Kalimantan, and the Batak clans in Sumatra all had claims to various territories, but none actually imagined themselves as belonging to an organic, unitary community in any meaningful way. Even the great maritime empires of Indonesia’s past were hardly arrangements that we would understand today as anything approaching nation-states. Instead, they were ethnically dominated networks of trade, linking distance outposts of commerce and religion, but in a way that largely ignored interior populations. For the people of the interior, except for the occasional intrusion of traders upriver to retrieve coveted goods from the forest, contact was limited, if existent at all. And whether the trade ships bore the emblem of Sri Vijaya or Majapahit or the Dutch East Indian Company, it mattered little. Beyond the occasional demand for tribute, the old way of empire in the yet-unmade “Indonesia” meant little for the vast majority of people. It was merely a matter for traders, kings, and bureaucrats.

Anderson linked the creation of nations, which he called “imagined communities,” with the advancement of national languages. These languages, often taken up by local imperial middlemen who wished to assert their own indigenous sovereignty against foreign occupiers, were created and popularized out of a pre-existing cultural matrix, but were nonetheless much more productions of invention than are generally thought. Bahasa Indonesia, the national language, is a prime example. A mélange of trade Malay (which was spread across the archipelago by the mercantile empires of old), Javanese (the language of the locus of political power during the Dutch years), and a healthy portion of Sanskrit, Chinese, Arabic, English, and Dutch loanwords, it is an entirely invented language. No ancient texts are written in Indonesian, and prior to the twentieth century it had no native speakers whatsoever. Even today, despite its active promotion by the Indonesia state, it remains a second language for many. Wherever we have traveled, we have found other languages spoken alongside Bahasa Indonesia—Balinese, Batak, Acehnese, Javanese, Malay, Chinese. From casual exchanges to pop music, the specter of these older languages always stalked close behind.

In Anderson’s sense, then, Indonesia is imaginary. From space, there is no obvious reason why Indonesia’s borders exist as they do, most certainly when we consider the odd lines that strike across Borneo and Papua and Timor. There is no obvious reason why Java and Sumatra should be in the same nation, but not Sumatra and Malaya. The histories of the people that make up modern-day Indonesia are certainly intertwined, but so too are those of the peoples of Malaysia and the Philippines and Thailand and southern China and even Australia. Indonesia only exists in the sense that there are people willing to believe that it does.

This, of course, might seem trite and trivial, but Anderson did not think so, and nor should we. Just because something is imagined does not mean it does not have real power. The history of Indonesia’s turbulent seventy years of existence, from the brutal wars of independence against the Japanese and the Dutch to the still whispered-about atrocities perpetrated in the wake of the massive social changes of 1965 and 1997, can be counted in a cost of real human lives and livelihoods nonetheless. Indonesia might be an obvious case of fragmented communities trying to achieve an imagined national unity, as its national motto of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika—“United in Diversity”—betrays. But so too are all nations, as Benedict Anderson reminded us. Indonesia’s motto is equally a gloss of the Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum, which graces the Great Seal of the United States, an equally imaginary nation, whose legacy and heritage remains as contested as that of this diverse archipelago on the other side of the Pacific.

Matt Regan

AMAN: Increasing the Visibility of Indigenous Communities

While we were in Jakarta, we visited Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago), or AMAN, a non-governmental organization that works to defend, serve, and protect indigenous communities in Indonesia. In the US, the term “indigenous” refers to individuals who were native to a land prior to colonization and migration from other nations. However, in Indonesia, “indigenous” has a different meaning. Rather, it refers to people or communities that live a traditional lifestyle, typically in an isolated geographic area. Given this difference in definition, Indonesian officials in the past have denied that the country has an indigenous population given that most of the population is native to the islands that comprise Indonesia.[1] This denial signifies how important it is that organizations like AMAN exist in order to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

AMAN was established in 1999 and represents approximately 17 million people and 2,302 communities, which are known as their members. The organization exists to “make their members happy” and defend indigenous people’s rights to territory, religion, and self-governance. From the organization’s establishment until the present, AMAN has changed strategies on how to deal with the government. From 1999-2007, AMAN decided that if the government would not recognize indigenous people, AMAN would not recognize the government. From 1999-2007, the government showed progress (albeit slow progress) in recognizing indigenous people’s rights. This led AMAN to change their stance in dealing with the government, moving from a confrontational strategy to one in which they engage with the government to try and secure greater rights for their members.

Throughout our time in Indonesia, we were constantly told by Indonesians that the country has good laws; however, the laws are often not enforced or are implemented poorly. This problem was once again brought to our attention at AMAN regarding religious freedom. Article 28E of the Indonesian constitution states that “every person shall be free to choose and to practice the religion of his/her choice.”[2] However, the government only has six officially recognized religions: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism.

Indigenous peoples often practice traditional forms of religion that are not among those recognized by the state. This creates a problem when indigenous people seek official registration as citizens because Indonesian ID cards have a religious identity section which, in practice, involves selecting one of the six official religions. Local governments are supposed to allow those who do not practice one of these religions to write down alternate religious identities, but this exemption is often not followed. The Minister of Home Affairs, Tjahjo Kumolo, recognized this issue in May 2015, stating that, “[officials] must allow citizens to write whatever their faith is on the ID cards” and, as the Jakarta Post points out, the Ministry of Home Affairs has “been set up to carry out regular monitoring and ensure the policy has been thoroughly implemented.”[3] Based on what we learned during our time in Indonesia, one wonders how effective this monitoring will actually be.

When the subject of religious freedom arose at AMAN, we asked Abdon Nababan, the Secretary General of AMAN, why local officials do not comply with the official regulation and why religion needs to be on an ID card. The issue is complex so there are many reasons, political and cultural, why Indonesia wants to keep the religious identification on the ID card. He suggested one possible reason is that Indonesia enjoys the status of being the largest majority Muslim state in the world and sees the ID cards as a mechanism to measure and ensure this fact remains.

This discussion at AMAN about religion and ID cards reminded me that politics can seep into what seem to be deeply personal things. I wonder if Indonesians belonging to one of the six recognized religions give much thought to the question when filling out an ID application. After all, there have been plenty of times in my life when I have been asked seemingly irrelevant questions on applications, answer them, and then don’t think twice about it afterwards. But as AMAN reminded us, these things can matter. Indigenous people have been denied citizen status because of this politically charged question. This has led to further marginalization of this population, which already lacks access to the political process. Learning about all of the obstacles that indigenous people face in Indonesia makes it clear that organizations like AMAN, that are fighting to make indigenous people visible to the government, are necessary even if the battle for sound and effectively implemented policies is an uphill one.

Kelsey Goetz

[1] Yan-man-shing, Frances. “Indonesia denies it has any indigenous peoples.” Mongabay. 13 June, 2013.

[2] “The 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia.” (Note that this is an unofficial translation to English.)—ed_protect/—protrav/—ilo_aids/documents/legaldocument/wcms_174556.pdf

[3] Aritonang, Margareth. “Indigenous faiths allowed on ID card.” Jakarta Post.

Running the Point – Indonesia’s Director General of Climate Change

Climate change is a critical issue for Indonesia. As one of the world’s top five greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters, Indonesia contributes significantly to the warming of earth’s atmosphere (Ge et al. 2014). Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF), most notably the draining and burning of peat forests for oil palm and paper planta
tions, is the largest source of Indonesia’s GHG emissions (approximately two gigatons of CO2 equivalent in 2011). In fact, the epidemic of fires Indonesia experienced in September 2015 generated higher average emissions than the entire US economy during the same time period (Harris et al. 2015).

Indonesia is also particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of climate change. As a nation of over 17,000 islands in which approximately 60 percent of the population resides in low-lying coastal areas, Indonesia is at high risk for flooding from both sea level rise and intense rainfall (Measey 2010). Climate change can also contribute to water shortages; Bali was experiencing drought conditions during our visit, despite the fact that January falls during Indonesia’s rainy season.

To address this unique challenge, President Joko Widodo in 2015 merged the National Council on Climate Change (DNPI) and the National Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Agency (BP REDD+) into the new Ministry of Environment aCC meetingnd Forestry, creating the Director General of Climate Change (DJPPI) within the ministry (Jong 2015). The decision faced scrutiny for disbanding the world’s first cabinet-level body dedicated exclusively to deforestation and forest degradation. Critics argued that moving this function from a coordinating agency to one of nine directorate generals within the Ministry of Environment and Forestry would reduce the government’s ability to address such issues. Proponents, in turn, suggested that consolidation would remove overlapping mandates and conflicting agendas, ultimately making the DJPPI more effective than its predecessors.

Our group was privileged to meet with Dr. Nur Masripatin, Director General of Climate Change, and the five Directors in her office, on Wednesday, January 20th. The DJPPI has immense and wide-ranging responsibilities, including climate change adaptation, mitigation, greenhouse gas emissions inventory, sectoral and regional resource mobilization, and forest and peat fire control. In total, 219 DJPPI personnel work to implement policies in these areas at the international, national, and local levels, across various sectors of the economy. This requires a huge degree of coordination with other ministries, including Agriculture, Energy and Mineral Resources, Finance, Home Affairs, and Transportation.

Increasing the availability of data and information for addressing climate change is a cross-cutting objective of the Director General. In order to truly meet emissions targets, Indonesia and the global community must have both emissions data and the confidence that the data can stand up to scrutiny. One specific target for such information technology is enhanced early warning systems (especially for potential fires), but our group saw several examples of sophisticated web-based platforms developed by DJPPI to facilitate information sharing and data reporting.

The presentation of Dr. Krisfianti Linda Ginoga, Director of Green House Gases Inventory and Monitoring, Reporting and Verification, clearly illustrated the complex, multisector coordination required of DJPPI, as well as the role technology plays in that process. Dr. Ginoga first showed our group the “SIGN SMART” web application supporting national and regional GHG inventory activities ( SIGN SMART allows private companies and local governments to directly input data on their activities, which is then automatically archived and used to estimate GHG emissions on a regional and national scale. Additionally, provincial or district level governments, NGOs, and general citizens can access data on Indonesia’s emissions profile through the SIGN SMART platform.

Prior to the development of SIGN SMART, the GHG inventory process was completed via a paper worksheet. This made both bottom-up data collection for GHG emissions inventories and the top-down dissemination of results extremely cumbersome. SIGN SMART streamlined information sharing between different sectors and levels of government, and also made it easier to review prior years’ data and revise emissions calculations.

The other major function overseen by Dr. Krisfianti Linda Ginoga is the development of Indonesia’s Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) scheme. Her team has developed a ten step MRV framework for corroborating data before it is submitted to the National Registry System. Verification is to be performed by the DJPPI and, in the case of REDD+, a third-party supervised by DJPPI. 2016 will be the first year in which this framework is implemented, beginning with 2010 data in accordance with a presidential decree.

In earlier meetings, our group heard concerns about how the lack of verification by independent NGOs could lead to questions about the legitimacy of Indonesia’s deforestation and emissions data. While there is clearly some effort to promote independent verification (particularly for REDD+), the fact that Indonesia’s MRV framework is primarily developed and implemented by DJPPI alone could raise questions about the nation’s commitment to, and progress toward, it’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) of a 26 percent reduction in GHG emissions by 2020 (when compared to a business as usual baseline).

Green House Gases Inventory and Monitoring, Reporting and Verification is an incredibly complex set of tasks undertaken by a team of just 30 people. It requires collecting information from many hundreds of local governments and private businesses, calculating and distributing emissions estimates from those data, and ensuring that data’s accuracy in a manner that will be accepted by the international community. In some sense, this effort can be viewed as a microcosm of Indonesia’s youthful democracy. In less than a year of formal operation, the Director General of Climate Change has made great strides in streamlining the collection and dissemination of GHG emissions information. At the same time, work remains in establishing an MRV scheme that engages independent NGOs and satisfies international stakeholders.

Matt Binsted

Works Cited:

Ge, Mengpin, et al.  “6 Graphs Explain the World’s Top 10 Emitters.”  World Resources Institute. 25 November 2014.  Web.  23 January 2016.  < explain-world%E2%80%99s-top-10-emitters>.

Harris, Nancy, et al.  “Indonesia’s Fire Outbreaks Producing More Daily Emissions than Entire US Economy.”  World Resources Institute.  16 October 2015.  Web.  23 January 2016.  <;.

Jong, Hans Nicholas.  “BP REDD+ officially disbanded.”  The Jakarta Post.  29 January 2015.

Web.  23 January 2016.  <;.

Measey, Mariah.  “Indonesia: A Vulnerable Country in the Face of Climate Change.”  Global Majority E-Journal 1.1 (2010), pp. 31-45.  Web.  23 January 2016. <;.

The Ford Foundation: US-Sponsored Philanthropy in Indonesia

The Ford Foundation is an international philanthropy organization that supports everything from public television in the United States to micro-lending in Bangladesh. In Indonesia the organization is specifically focused on efforts to promote civic engagement and government reform, address inequality, and support the arts. We had the pleasure of visiting the Ford Foundation office in Jakarta. Steve Rhee, who focuses on rural community livelihoods and forest resources, spoke with us about the numerous challenges faced by Indonesia as it continues to develop economically.

Indonesia is the 16th largest economy in the world. It is abundant in natural resources, such as coal, minerals, rubber, and timber. Tourism is also becoming a large part of the economy. It seems that Indonesians should have access to all the benefits development brings, including access to education and justice, and a sound infrastructure. However, our brief travels in Sumatra, Bali, and Java have impressed upon us that this is not always the case. Much of Indonesia’s infrastructure is underdeveloped and, like many developing countries, Indonesia suffers from economic inequality and social disparity. Steve Rhee explained that one factor causing this disparity is poor governance. While corruption and inequality which favors capital has lessened since Indonesia began its process of democratization in 1998, the country still suffers from holdovers from the Suharto regime, as well as new opportunities for corruption.

Past administrations have addressed corruption and inequality with limited success. In order to address the Suharto regime’s unequal distribution of resources, Indonesia embarked on an effort at decentralization. Decentralization, ideally, would put money and responsibility closer to the land and people which produced and deserved it. In practice, this has brought its own problems since decentralization has led to a situation where power has been dispersed at district levels, making governance of the country more difficult. Post-Suharto administrations have actively sought to combat corruption, for example, through the creation of the Corruption Eradication Commission in 2002, but good laws and good intentions do not make a difference if there is no follow through. Enforcement remains a problem.

This is where an organization like the Ford Foundation comes in. Their projects offer solutions and different approaches to the problems the government has not yet been able to solve. For example, the foundation supports a program to expanding community rights over natural resources, which could address some economic inequality issues. This program also includes attempts to improve local livelihood opportunities, increase meaningful participation, and recognize the rights of traditional communities that live in state forest zones. The Ford Foundation’s approach includes mapping unrepresented communities, legal and policy advocacy, conflict resolution, strengthening institutions, and fostering strategic communication. There are severe challenges and complications in achieving these objectives. For one, implementation requires the foundation to work with the government. The Ford Foundation is in an interesting situation in which, in order to operate successfully, it must engage with the government directly and maintain its place as a guest in the country, while being critical of the government to improve governance, access to justice, and checks and balances at all levels, and to decrease corruption.

The pace of reform is very slow, but despite the challenges there have been areas of progress. For example, the mapping program mentioned above has managed to survey approximately seven million hectares, literally putting people on the map who have not legally existed or had rights to their land before. There is also reason for optimism. President Joko Widodo (or “Jokowi”) has made economic development a priority, which could address inequality, though hopefully not at the expense of Indonesia’s environment. Additionally, the recent extortion scandal with the parliamentary speaker has put corruption in the spotlight once again, possibly opening the door for Jokowi to be harder on corruption.

Overall, the Ford Foundation, as one of few philanthropic organizations in the country, remains in a unique position to affect change in Indonesia. With a young, burgeoning population and abundant natural resources, Indonesia has enormous potential for economic growth. Organizations such as the Ford Foundation will be vital for ensuring that such growth is equitable, recognizing the importance of traditional communities, and continuing to shine the light on corruption as Indonesia develops and grows into the future.

Muthanna Rahman

UNORCID: Coordination in a Decentralized Country

On our last day in Jakarta, we traveled to the United Nations Office of REDD+ Coordination in Indonesia (UNORCID) to meet with its Director and Executive Head, Mr. Satya Tripathi. REDD+ is the acronym for a UN program meaning “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.” The program aims to create financial value for the carbon stored in forests by offering incentives to developing countries to reduce emissions and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development (UN-REDD Programme, 2016).

As we have seen in our time here, deforestation as a result of land use change is causing immense challenges for Indonesians related to air quality, water supply, wildlife preservation, carbon emissions, and even their everyday way of life. Those under the poverty line are most affected. They often live in or near forests and have livelihoods based on small-scale agriculture, depending on the ecosystem for food, water, and shelter. In total, about 27% of Indonesians rely directly on the forests (Margono, et. al., 2012). Two main causes of deforestation are the palm oil and logging industries. Preparing the land for these types of production often involves clearing forests by chopping and burning which forces people and animals off the land. Additionally, burning peat forests produces 80% more carbon than burning tropical forest. As we have seen in the news in recent months, this an enormous problem for Indonesia. Of the 27 million hectares of peat swamp forest in Southeast Asia, 83% belongs to the islands of Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Papua (Wetlands International, 2014). As a consequence of economic and population pressure, Indonesia experiences one of the world’s highest deforestation rates, second only to Brazil (Margono, et. al. 2012). Indonesia faces a challenge in simultaneously sustaining key forest ecosystem services as well as the livelihoods of local populations that rely on them. The country struggles to balance its economic need for the palm oil and logging industries with the need to sustain natural resources. Illegal logging and oil palm planting further complicate these issues. With a decentralized government leaving much of the responsibility for land management at the provincial and district levels, oversight and enforcement are immense challenges. The commoditization of carbon which is enabled by REDD+ is one possible solution to this deforestation problem.

After a Memorandum of Understanding between the UN and the Republic of Indonesia, UNORCID was established by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on November 17, 2011 to manage the REDD+ program in Indonesia. The UN’s involvement is a testament to the global importance of Indonesia’s forests to climate change. The office assesses needs, assists in policy formulation, and provides technical expertise (UNORCID, 2016.) The office also encourages a coordinated international response to ensure efficient allocation of resources in support of the Indonesian government, donor parties, and the private sector (UNORCID, 2016.)

During our visit, Mr. Tripathi talked with the class about Indonesia’s intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) related to climate change. The country committed to a 26% reduction in emissions by 2020 and a 29% reduction by 2030 (Wilkinson, 2015). The INDCs stipulate that they will further reduce emissions by 41% if the international community shows its commitment by providing financial resources (Wilkinson, 2015). Mr. Tripathi also discussed Indonesia’s participation in COP21 and its submission of its new climate action plan well ahead of the climate conference in Paris. Following Mr. Tripathi, we heard from another UNORCID official who is working on an online program which uses land satellites and geospatial data to map peat forest fires around the country. We learned about how peat fires burn under the ground up to several meters deep. This makes extinguishing them particularly difficult because they cannot always be seen from above. Often, the ground appears to be steaming or smoking while fires burn well below the surface. Flying over the land and dumping water is therefore an ineffective method of extinguishing these fires. The office’s goal is to teach provincial and district level leaders how to use technology for fire prevention and reporting. The office stresses the importance of prevention and preemptive action over reactionary solutions.

Overall, it appears that UNORCID’s task to coordinate REDD+ efforts in Indonesia is a sizable challenge requiring support of the Indonesian government, local governments, and the international community. The office knows that working at the provincial and district level, as well as with local stakeholders, is key to the success of REDD+ in the country due to the decentralized nature of governance since the Suharto presidency.

Laura Krahl


Margono, B., Turubanova, S., Zhuravleva, I., Potapov, P., Tyukavina, A., Baccini, A., Goetz, S., and Hansen, M. (2012). Mapping and monitoring deforestation and forest degradation in Sumatra using Landsat time series data sets from 1990 to 2010. IOP Science. Retrieved from

UNORCID. (2016). About UNORCID. United Nations Office of REDD+ Coordination in Indonesia. Retrieved from

UN-REDD Programme. (2016). About REDD+. UN-REDD Programme. Retrieved from

Wetlands International. (2014). Tropical peat swamp forests. Wetlands International. Retrieved from

Wilkinson, J. (2015). Indonesia’s INDC- A step forward or a missed opportunity. Climate Policy Initiative. Climate Policy Initiative. Retrieved from

Climate Policy

Despite being one of the biggest players in global climate change, Indonesia is often overlooked and underestimated. The country has a population of 250 million people situated across more than 17,000 islands, divided into three time zones and 34 provinces, almost all of which is within a tropical climate. Indonesia remains in flux with a recently decentralized government dealing with a variety of environmental crises. Indonesia is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world with a majority of its emissions from the land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) and energy sectors. The greatest culprit is the rapid deforestation across the country. This new government has the extremely difficult task of developing and implementing new policies that favor both the environment and the people.

Our group had the honor of visiting with the President’s Special Envoy for Climate Change team at their office in Jakarta. This group of three women, including Amanda Katili, accompanied the Special Envoy, Dr. Rachmat Witoelar, at the Paris climate negotiations last December. This team reports directly to President Jokowi on all climate change issues. Witoelar served as the President of COP13 held in Bali, Indonesia, which was deemed a very successful meeting.

Although the Paris climate negotiations at COP21 centered around countries’ intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), Indonesia is still focused on implementation to meet its 2020 emissions target of 26% reductions from business as usual (BAU)[1]. The country’s INDC submitted for COP21 is a 29% reduction by 2030 from BAU. Indonesia increases that commitment to 41% reduction under the condition of international assistance. The team understands that if they cannot meet the 2020 goal, the new 2030 target will be exceedingly more challenging to accomplish.

The team stressed the importance of decentralization in the energy sector to help meet emissions goals. In addition, there is a focus on provincial level emissions plans so that different areas can determine the best ways to reduce emissions. This is strikingly similar to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan in which states have flexibility in reaching their emissions goals.

Indonesia’s climate team is focused on education and outreach, policy analysis, and interdisciplinary approaches to climate change mitigation and adaptation. They have worked on issues which intersect with climate change including food, faith, youth, public-private partnerships, and gender. Tackling Indonesia’s deforestation will arguably be the biggest challenge for the country as forests, and especially peat lands, act as significant carbon storage for the country. Climate change is a cross-sectional issue that needs buy-in from many disciplines. Therefore, the Special Envoy for Climate Change and his team will work with the Ministers of Environment and Forestry, Foreign Affairs, Energy and Mineral Resources, Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Health, Industry, Infrastructure and Settlements, etc. to determine the most feasible and effective ways to move forward.

While there is still significant work to be done, Indonesia has accomplished a lot already and intentions are pushing the government in the right direction. Indonesia has pledged $250,000 USD to the Green Climate Fund; the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources is supporting access to residential solar photovoltaic systems with cooperation from the national utility PLN; and micro-hydro systems are relatively widespread throughout the country. The team recognizes that climate change is a global problem, one that must be tackled with the coordination of other international players and must look toward long-term planning. For them, the global climate agreement means that Indonesia can no longer look at climate change and economic development as separate initiatives, but instead as coexistent goals.

Courtney Ferraro

[1] Indonesia has indicated that its BAU data starts in 2010.

Forestry is not about trees, it is about people

Before arriving in Jakarta, our group spent most of our time exploring the Balinese subaks and the jungles of Sumatra. We learned about the challenges of preserving culture, traditional livelihoods, and the relatively unmolested wild in the face of an increasingly modern Indonesia and a global economy with an insatiable appetite for palm oil. Economic development in Indonesia is progressing while environmental protection has been regressing. The nascent democracy is also stressed by a lack of coordination and corruption. Global efforts to protect the country’s forests are complicated by unclear land tenure rights and ownership of natural resources.

Shortly after arriving in Jakarta, we spent a day at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), which is headquartered in Bogor, a chaotic 1.5-hour bus trip from our hotel. Once we arrived, we were introduced to Christine Padoch who leads the organization’s research on forests and livelihoods. She provided us a brief introduction to the Center’s history and mission.

CIFOR was established in 1993 as part of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The Center focuses its research on forestry as it relates to the environment, livelihoods, and governance and it takes a landscape view of forests which includes neighboring agricultural and urban areas. CIFOR rightfully stresses that forest protection is vital for achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals of worldwide improvements to everything from human health and livelihoods to climate change adaptation/mitigation and biodiversity conservation.

One of the more eye-opening presentations was by William Sunderlin, whose general research focus is on the causes of deforestation and its human impacts. His most recent work includes an analysis of the effectiveness of the UN’s REDD+ program, which aims to reduce forest destruction and degradation from land-use change and infrastructure development, make forest protection more profitable than forest conversion, and create a performance-based reward system in order to discourage deforestation. One of the biggest impediments to REDD+ effectiveness has been ambiguity in land tenure. Current tenure arrangements tend to favor the interests of corporations that extract forest resources over those of local people who have historical claims to those lands.

In Dr. Sunderlin’s analysis, clear land tenure arrangements are particularly important in REDD+ because rights holders are then more easily held responsible for forest protection, they reduce the competition for REDD+ benefits, allow enforceable rights of exclusion of outsiders, and ensure that agriculture and infrastructure do not interfere with forest protection. His research found that most villages near state-owned forest land experienced external claims to local forests and a quarter of them even experienced external extraction of forest resources despite formal prohibitions. This means that valuable natural resources are being removed largely by industry and indigenous communities are suffering as a result. Tenure rights are actually believed to be the largest challenge to the implementation of REDD+ program in Indonesia even ahead of the challenging economics of forest protection and the abundant governance or policy issues.

So, what does all this mean? Sorting out who has rights to which areas would simplify forest protection. At the moment, there is uncertainty among the citizenry and even between government ministries about tenure rights and this can lead to unchecked forest loss and economic distress for already-struggling communities. In CIFOR’s eyes, forestry is not simply about trees; it is about people and it is about trees insofar as they serve the needs of people. The Center is working to highlight how the lingering confusion about land tenure is hamstringing REDD+ implementation in Indonesia and, if the program is to ever gain traction again, clarifying who has rights to the archipelago’s forest is the most important step in protecting its forest resources and ensuring equitable distribution of the benefits from natural resource extraction.

Kiel Edson