REDD+: A Failed Story in Indonesia?

REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and REDD+ (which also includes carbon stock enhancements) play a key role in tropical countries with rich forest resources and troubling deforestation issues. The original idea for REDD came from RED, which is a payment mechanism to reduce deforestation and to mitigate climate change. In 2003, at the ninth Conference of Parties (COP 9) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Milan, the idea of compensation for reduced deforestation was brought up by the Amazon coalition at a side event. Later, at COP 11 in Montreal in 2005, Costa Rica and Papua Guinea submitted a formal proposal on behalf of the Coalition of Rainforest Nations to request the inclusion of deforestation reduction in the Climate Convention.

In response to the request from developing countries, at COP 13 in Bali, the Norwegian government established their $1.6 billion International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI), which sought to fund tropical forest conservation programs in several countries, such as Indonesia, Brazil, Liberia, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Guyana. Thus, Norway played a major role in the REDD+ funding system, as its funding accounts for more than half of all REDD+ funding to date (Howell 2015, 3). In 2010, the Letter of Intent (LoI) was signed between Norway and Indonesia. Norway pledged $1 billion over five years towards efforts to cut green gas emissions in Indonesia. In the Lol, there is a term specifically indicating the role of REDD+: “Establish a special agency reporting directly to the President to coordinate the efforts….” (LoI, VI, b). However, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) signed Presidential Decree No. 16 Year 2015, and the duties, functions, and authority of this REDD+ Agency were integrated into the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (itself a merging of two independent ministries that predated the Jokowi administration).

The integration of the REDD+ agency into the ministry raises many questions:

First, it potentially troubles Indonesia’s relations with Norway. Several years after the initial agreement, Indonesia shows no progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, and as a result, no payments based on the performance-based aid mechanism have been received, with the exception of one $50 million donation for phase one. In March 2016, the Norwegian government admitted “they hadn’t seen actual progress in reducing deforestation in Indonesia” (Financial Times, March 1, 2016). Referring to the integration of the REDD+ Agency, Norway’s Ambassador to Indonesia Stig Traavik told the Jakarta Globe, “We have heard about the decision but not in detail. The main thing now is how to reach the goal together.”

Second, it clouds the authority of the REDD+ Agency. A government official at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry commented on the advantage of the integration during a meeting with us. She pointed out that the former REDD+ Agency didn’t have the authority to manage forest, which is under the authority of the ministry. In her view, through integration, the REDD+ Agency can now be much stronger, not only having the authority to release forest-related regulations, but also using institutions at the subnational level. However, even if this true, from a political perspective, the downgrading of the REDD+ Agency from the cabinet level to an office that is far away from the president’s sight has many disadvantages.

Third, it questions the functions of the REDD+ Agency. In 2015, then agency head Heru Prasetyo laid out the agency’s action plan for its ten current programs, such as monitoring the forest permits moratorium, one-map policy, law enforcement support, indigenous land mapping, forest fire prevention, and so on. Now, however, these ten programs are experiencing changes and challenges. Take, for example, relations with indigenous peoples. Mina Setra, Deputy Secretary General of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), mentioned that they used to work closely with the REDD+ Task Force and REDD+ Agency, and together they developed a plan and strategy for the engagement of indigenous communities on REDD+ activities. Now, however, with the new president and his integration of the  REDD+ Agency into the ministry, everything has had to restart. Although AMAN has had positive conversations with President Jokowi, action on the REDD+ agenda seems to have stalled.

Fourth, the issues of funding and corruption remain unaddressed. There is no REDD+ financial mechanism in Indonesia for now. The money from the Norwegian government for the pre-creation phase, for example, was channeled through UNDP to avoid corruption. Ex-head of Indonesia’s REDD+ Task Force, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, once said in an interview, “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.’” (Lang, 2013). By putting REDD+ under the Ministry of Environment and Forestry without a solid financial mechanism, money will go to the ministry itself. The previous Ministry of Forestry, at least, had a reputation as one of the most corrupt government institutions in Indonesia.

Lastly, the impacts on the other forest countries is unclear. The decisions and actions of the Indonesian government will have influence on other countries, such as Ethiopia, Guyana,  and Brazil, who have also signed bilateral agreements with Norway. Indonesia’s REDD+ Agency used to be a good example for them to learn from. A researcher at CIFOR, Efrian Muharrom, mentioned in a meeting with us that Brazil and Indonesia used to learn a lot from each other’s experiences with REDD+. It remains unclear if the integration of the REDD+ Agency will be viewed by others as a best practice or as a cautionary tale.

Currently, we cannot tell what direction the decision to integrate the REDD+ Agency will take. It is still too early to make any firm conclusions. But if REDD+ in Indonesia wants to be a success story, it needs to address the above concerns.

Jiehong Lou

Works Cited

Howell, S & Bastiansen, E. (2015). Report of a Collaborative Anthropological Research Programme. REDD+ in Indonesia 2010-2015.

The Jakarta Post, BP REDD+ to go on despite uncertain future,

Jakarta Globe, Jokowi Folds Emissions Agency BP REDD+ Into Forestry Ministry,

Lang, Chris. (March 3, 2016) Norway admits that “We haven’t seen actual progress in reducing deforestation” in Indonesia. http://www/




What’s Bio-Solar?

“Hey Matt, what’s bio-solar?”

The question, which started out as merely a misreading of a sign advertising the price of fuel at a filling station (solar means ‘diesel fuel’ in Indonesian, so I’m sure you can understand my confusion), became one of the most important moments on the trip for me. It turns out that most of Indonesia’s biofuel comes from palm oil, the same valuable plant that is the greatest threat to the country’s lush tropical forests as well as one of the greatest assets to the national treasury.

Being deeply interested in the ways that developing countries can expand access to clean, low-carbon, renewable sources of energy to their people, the idea of Indonesia being able to grow its own fuel seemed like a natural solution. However, our time in the country had brought us face to face with the side effects of oil palm development. As a resource, it degrades the soil around it and is incredibly water-intensive, not to mention that Indonesia’s national and local political structures make law enforcement efforts against illegal deforestation for  oil palm development akin to a game of Whack-a-mole.

Our discussions with the experts we met about palm oil further complicated my view. Each individual and organization had their own perspective on the issue and their own set of hopes and doubts about its promise for the country.

For the central government’s part, they hope to expand biodiesel production as well as consumption domestically. The targets shift over time and between administrations, but the most recent goals call for liquid fuels to be at least 20% biofuel by 2020, and to grow an additional 10% in the five years following. They also dramatically increased subsidies for domestic biofuels which made them cost competitive with fossil fuels. However, the government has also placed a moratorium on further deforestation of protected rainforest areas. While there is much to be said about the effectiveness and sustainability of the moratorium, it is still a signal from the government that further development of the forests is off-limits, at least on the books. The government is also attempting to keep pace with neighboring country and fellow palm oil developer Malaysia, which has its own biofuel target.

Businesses are responding to the two potentially contradictory calls by pushing to make their oil palm plantations more efficient and less water intensive. A representative from the palm oil industry we spoke with told us that fears of the additional demand of palm oil that the fuel standards might present are likely unfounded as there are only a handful of companies large enough to refine palm oil into diesel fuel–and that all of those companies have robust reporting systems that allow for full traceability of the oil to ensure that it does not come from an illegal source.

This is an incomplete snapshot of an interesting but convoluted issue that involves such diverse actors as small holder farmers, government bureaucrats, foreign NGO workers, and indigenous peoples. It represents an idea almost as troubled, promising, and convoluted as Indonesia itself.

Whitney Allen

AMAN and Indigenous Peoples in Indonesia

While in Jakarta, we had the privilege of meeting with AMAN (Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara, which translates as the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago) at their national headquarters. AMAN is a non-governmental organization (NGO) established in 1999 which works to address issues related to indigenous peoples in Indonesia on a national scale, the principal issue being advocating for the protection of indigenous peoples’ human rights. We were graciously welcomed into their office, which they call their home, by Mina Setra and several of her colleagues and were offered a delicious lunch of traditional foods from various Indonesian indigenous communities. One dish of note was an especially spicy soup from an indigenous community in Sulawesi, which caused several students to succumb to coughing fits, as the spice overwhelmed their taste buds.

AMAN was born out of the first Indigenous People’s Congress in 1999 in Jakarta, colloquially referred to as Kongres Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (KMAN I). The idea for an Indigenous People’s Congress was considered by several NGOs in Indonesia in the 1980s and 1990s who had been advocating for indigenous people’s rights. The idea was a simple one, but organizing the Congress was no easy task, as individuals from Indonesia’s 17,000+ islands were gathered and charged with finding common ground and creating a national agenda that would satisfy and incorporate the agendas of all the individuals from hundreds of communities. Through dogged persistence and a deliberative democratic approach, the communities came together and formed a common policy on how to protect indigenous people’s land rights and cultural heritage from governmental and corporate pressures and intrusions. As AMAN prepares for the fifth Indigenous People’s Congress, KMAN V, in March 2017, it is currently comprised of over 110 regional chapters in 33 provinces across Indonesia. These chapters include 2,272 indigenous communities with an estimated population of over 17 million people.

In addition to tremendous growth and expansion in participation, AMAN has made large political strides over the last 18 years. Initially being a strong voice speaking out against the injustices of the government, AMAN is now being sought out and consulted by government leaders. When the current Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, was seeking election, he consulted with AMAN and promised to support indigenous people’s rights once elected. Despite the fact that AMAN is still waiting for the President to fulfill his campaign promises, the fact that he sought out their support and partnership during his election campaign demonstrates the true importance and stature that indigenous peoples have garnered on a national scale in Indonesia.

One of AMAN’s current policy objectives is working on and advocating for the One Map initiative in Indonesia. This objective was born out of the fact that land ownership, land use, and land tenure cut to the heart of indigenous people’s issues. Currently in Indonesia, different levels of government and various government agencies have maps that show conflicting data and various alignments of that data. Examples of these data include forest cover, territorial boundaries, land use categories, and the local use of natural resources. These mapping discrepancies are used to take advantage of indigenous groups that rarely hold formal land deeds or claims on the land that they occupy. The goal of the One Map initiative is to bring together land use, land tenure and other spatial data into a single incorporated database for Indonesia and ensure that conflicts are adjudicated fairly and openly.

Despite these noble and lofty goals, the One Map project is very contentious throughout Indonesia, as mapping is an issue that impacts all walks of life. Various competing interests across the government and in business fight for their version of the map to be incorporated into the project, while indigenous communities argue over traditional borders. Mina took some time to share the role that AMAN is playing in this struggle. She discussed how AMAN facilitates the discussions between bordering indigenous communities and how decisions for the map aren’t reached until both sides agree on the border. She shared that despite the rewarding feeling that she gets from AMAN’s successes, there are times when disputes over these borders drag on for months and/or years.

As we are approaching the ten-year anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it was extremely meaningful and impactful to see the progress and the struggles that indigenous communities are facing on the ground in Indonesia. Tremendous strides forward have been made in recognizing the value and importance of indigenous peoples on an international scale, while in countries like Indonesia the national political importance of these groups is finally being realized and recognized. Despite these advances, AMAN and other organizations like it worldwide are still awaiting substantial change and the full recognition of indigenous peoples’ importance, value, and role in society. Through the tireless work of AMAN, hopefully these changes won’t remain elusive for very much longer.

Aaron Burr

Indonesia Species List

Indonesia is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet: according to the Rainforest Action Network, its forests are home to 10 percent of all known plant species, 12 percent of the word’s mammals, and 17 percent of its birds. Likewise, its marine environments, especially the Coral Triangle, are home to 76 percent of coral species and 37 percent of all known coral reef fish, as well as six out of the planet’s seven sea turtle species.

The list below includes those species that we identified during our travels in Bali, North Sulawesi (Manado, Bunaken, Tangkoko), and North Sumatra (Bukit Lawang, Gunung Leuser National Park). Where available, we’ve linked this list to the appropriate Wikipedia page to give visuals and more information.

Note: Please forgive the paraphyletic use of reptilia and aves for ease of groupings


Phylum Chordata

Subphylum Tunicata (2)

Subphylum Vertebrata

Class Chondrichthyes (2)

Class Actinopterygii (26)

Class Amphibia (3)

Class Reptilia (11)

Class Aves (45)

Class Synapsida (13)

Phylum Echinodermata

Protostomes (partial list)

Phylum Arthropoda (many crustaceans, insects, and arachnids, only a few listed here) 

Class Arachnida

Class Crustacea

Class Insecta

Phylum Mollusca

Phylum Annelida

Class Polychaeta

Phylum Platyhelminthes

Phylum Cnidaria (multitude of corals and anemones, only major groups listed)

Compiled by Ryan Helcoski, Katie Murtough, and Arjun Awashti, with additional input by Matthew Regan

Law enforcement problem in preventing illegal forest fire in Indonesia

Illegal forest fires are frequent in Indonesia causing regional haze pollution, which negatively impacts economic development and public health in Southeast Asia. The purpose of the burning is to clear forest for commercial oil palm plantations. The burning has mainly occurred on Sumatra and Kalimantan, where most oil palm plantations are located. Although there are various regulations to prevent illegal forest fires, weak law enforcement remains a major obstacle to stop the burning.

Indonesia is the world largest palm oil exporter and producer and oil palm plantation and processing key industry in the country’s economy. In 2015, Indonesia produced 32.5 million tons of palm oil, exporting 81 percent of the oil ($18.6 billion). Most of the palm oil is exported to China, India, Malaysia, Singapore and the Netherlands.

Indonesia’s oil palm plantations are controlled by 25 private companies. Among these companies, just five control 32 percent and 62 percent of oil palm plantations in Sumatra and Kalimantan respectively. These private palm oil companies often deliberately set fire to the drained peatlands and other areas because it is the fastest and cheapest way to convert land. The demand for palm oil continues to increase, encouraging further oil palm expansion, and thus exacerbating the fire and haze problem.

To tackle illegal forest fires, the Indonesian government has various regulatory frameworks and initiatives in the oil palm sector. During our group’s visit to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Bogor, researcher Ahmad Dermawan explained several of the government’s efforts. These have included: (1) the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil system (ISPO), a national certification scheme for palm oil production; (2) a moratorium on the conversion of primary forests and peatlands; (3) measures to stop oil palm development in peatlands; (4) measures for peatland restoration in areas affected by fires; and (5) new measures to halt the granting of oil palm concessions. Moreover, in 2016, the Indonesian government revised its regulations on managing forest fires to place greater responsibility on plantation companies for preventing and detecting fires.

Unfortunately, the annual fires continue despite the various regulations and government efforts. Weak law enforcement at the local level is a key challenge for the prevention of illegal forest fires. Corruption is a major problem. During our meeting with Abetnego Tarigan, he mentioned that private palm oil companies sometimes give cars or houses to local law enforcement officials so that the companies might continue land clearing activities without oversight. Furthermore, the enormous benefits from oil palm expansion have impeded law enforcement as well. According to CIFOR scientist Herry Purnomo, total oil palm benefits over three years in a burned area is $3,077 per hectare. Half of these benefits go to the group organizers, such as local elites. Local politics also matters. Researchers have shown a positive relationship between an increase in illegal burning and local electoral cycles. Local officials allow land clearing activities during local elections in order to gain support from the oil palm sector.

Ya-Chun Wang

Challenging My View of Nature in Bali, Bunaken, and Gunung Leuser

Growing up, “nature” always referred to a place I loved, an area beyond the realm of man. Nature encompassed the deep woods, the Adirondacks, and backpacking trails into state game lands. Nature was something to be preserved and protected that was always being hacked into, an area in retreat from humanity that could only survive in places where progress dared not venture, like frozen mountains and mosquito infested swamps. However, Indonesia has increasingly challenged my perception. My dichotomous view has been challenged by the holistic view of the natural world in the subaks of Bali; the mixture of conservation and degradation of the reefs of Bunaken; and the competition between palm oil, small shareholders, and preservation around Gunung Leuser National Park. Evidently, I need to rethink my definition of nature.

In Balinese Hinduism there is a persistent emphasis on balance; balance with fellow humans, with the gods and spirits, and with nature. Nature in this sense refers to the subaks, the residual forests, the soil, the earth, the sky. In my perspective, subaks are part of the built environment. They are an incredible feat of human engineering and in no way seem “natural” to me. But to everyone I spoke to subaks are natural, they are a product of what humans do. Humans grow rice, trees grow, fish swim, birds fly, and animals creep upon the earth. This is just how things are and it is natural. The question of the encroaching tourist resorts is a different situation entirely. Is the accelerating pace of development that consumes the subaks and pushes local farmers off their lands just one form of human engineering replacing another? Logically, if the subaks are part of the built world and hotels are just a more modern form of the same world, then replacing one with the other is just substituting one form of environmental degradation for another. But… it sure didn’t feel like that walking among these incredible feats of ancestral wisdom.

During our time in North Sulawesi we were able to visit the island of Bunaken to study coral reef conservation. These reefs are incredible and home to tens of thousands of species of corals, anemones, feather stars, basket stars, tunicates, bony fishes, turtles, marine mammals, cartilaginous fishes, and many others. However, there were also floating plastic bottles and occasional trash that floated with the wildlife. The reef was healthy in some parts and bleached in others. Some sections of the reef looked to be scraped flat probably due to anchor damage and previous blast fishing (which locals and authorities insist no longer occurs). Were these reefs no longer a part of nature since they were contaminated by human trash? Were the mangroves no longer “natural” since they had been trimmed back to allow boats to dock and people to walk? Many of the corals were still healthy and in some areas soft corals were growing over the bleached skeletons of others. Some areas were rejuvenating and even thriving. With proper conservation measures under the guidance of the Coral Triangle Initiative, perhaps the reefs could even withstand the dual pressures of acidification and bleaching. They must be part of the increasingly ephemeral “nature.”  

Gunung Leuser is the last place on earth where Sumatran rhinoceros, tigers, elephants, and orangutans still live together. It is an incredibly diverse national park with a variety of problems from habitat destruction due to small shareholders and major corporations to poaching, illegal logging, and many others. On the surface it conforms closely to my opinion of nature as an outside agent. However, many of the orangutans living near the park border have been humanized to varying degrees – since many are rehabilitated orangutans – and even animals deeper in the park are accustomed to human presence. Is this habitat no longer “natural” since some of its primate inhabitants have begun to steal human food? Is the only way to save the land to directly combat encroachment and exterminate contamination? Clearly the wildlife issues of the Gunung Leuser National Park are very different than the issues of Bali or Bunaken, but what about my definition of “nature?”

Was nature fated to struggle in the rocky areas of Bali, the shrinking forests of Northern Sumatra and the deep underwater drop off the coast of Bunaken or is there a better way to define it? In Bali, the subaks were nature; in Bunaken, the ocean; in North Sumatra, the jungle. In this planet full of humans is there no longer a respite for “nature,” or does it exist everywhere in varying states of conservation and use? This trip has forced me to admit my definition of nature is antiquated and in dire need of revision. The multitude of “degraded” areas we had researched are worthy of conservation and sustainable use, indeed, this may be the only way “nature” can survive into the deep future.

Ryan Helcoski

An Intergenerational Solution to Sustainable Environment-Green Education

Tropical deforestation results in increased carbon emissions and biodiversity loss. From 2000 to 2012, Indonesia lost over 6 million hectares of primary forest, a loss that impacts climate change, biodiversity, and public health. In response, the Indonesian government has increased the number of forest management regulations and forest policies. Simultaneously, an environmental education effort plays an important role of tackling environmental problems in Indonesia. The Bali Green school is an outstanding example of environmental education in Indonesia. When Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General visited the Green School, he described it as “the most unique and impressive school I have ever visited.”

Since 2006, the Indonesian Ministries of Environment (which merged with the Ministry for Forestry in 2014) and  Education have worked together to create and promote an environmental education program, the program of sustainable development education. The Ministry of Environment selects member schools to join the environmental education program, which aims to raise schoolchildren’s awareness about environmental challenges and developing curriculum activities related to environmental actions. The core value of environmental education is to educate schoolchildren that certain habits and ways of thinking will lead to sustainable actions and consequences. Currently, there are 462 schools participating the program. Member schools receive financial support from governments, local authorities, and businesses, and the funding is used to develop extracurricular activities related to solving environmental problems. NGOs and other research organizations provide educational support to member schools. The Ministry of Education takes responsibility for creating a cross-subject learning model based on sustainable development and works with member schools to integrate environmental education into school curriculum. Schoolchildren who benefit from the environmental education program show better understanding of major environmental problems after taking the environment-related classes. There is evidence that the environmental education program also indirectly influences schoolchildren’s parents in waste management and the creation of healthy and clean household environments. More parents recycle paper, plastics and cans, and more parents tend to consume healthy food. Mr. Rachmat Witoelar, one of the most distinguished climate change experts and political figures in Indonesia, values environmental education very much, and he believes that it has profound and lasting meaning for sustainable development in the country.

As future leaders, it is very important for schoolchildren to raise awareness of the impact of their thinking and decisions on environment. The former head of the country’s REDD+ Agency, Mr. Heru Prasetyo, said that supporting environmental education was one of ten imperative actions of REDD+. Environmental education, which is supported by government, school communities, local actors, media and NGOs will provide innovation and create opportunities to spread sustainability, equality, and responsibility to the next generation.

Haonan Xu

Works Cited

Margono, Belinda Arunarwati, et al. “Primary forest cover loss in Indonesia over 2000-2012.” Nature Climate Change 4.8 (2014): 730-735.