The Darwin Initiative Blog

Insights and personal musings from the world of biodiversity conservation and development. For more info on the Darwin Initiative see https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/the-darwin-initiative

One palm too far? Indonesia’s palm oil expansion and biodiversity

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This is a guest blog from Hannah Betts, an analyst at LTS and a reviewer for the Darwin M&E work. Hannah has key experience in Indonesia looking at REDD+ and governance. 

Indonesia credit H Betts

Indonesia is one of those countries where you are never quite sure where to start in terms of poverty and biodiversity. It is just huge, and there is so much going on! This was further highlighted following a recent thought provoking piece on illegal logging and the related trade from Chatham House. This has once again turned my mind to the rapid expansion of commodities, specifically palm oil in Indonesia, and what this means for REDD+ and biodiversity?

REDD (Reducing emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) was established to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering financial incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and invest in low-carbon development pathways. REDD+ goes beyond forest conservation to also include conservation, increasing carbon stocks in forests, and sustainable management of forests, including the role of biodiversity. Within its remit, REDD+ does have the potential to simultaneously contribute to climate change mitigation and poverty alleviation, whilst also conserving biodiversity and sustaining vital ecosystem services. Click here to read more about REDD / REDD+.

Both biodiversity and REDD+ are complex in their own right. Not everyone is aware of just how much REDD+ involves biodiversity, or why biodiversity should be monitored for REDD+, or the indicators that we should be monitoring! While above ground biodiversity is often considered, it must also be remembered that there is a vast array of rich biodiversity within forest soils, placing it at the heart of REDD+ activities. With biodiversity formulating one of the key components of REDD+ REDD+ could have both positive and negative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services. There is potential for organisations concerned with biodiversity and biodiversity conservation to contribute knowledge and expertise in this area, as well as harness the potential funding opportunities.

As a country, Indonesia is covered in masses of biodiverse forests. It is striving towards a 7% economic growth rate, whilst at the same time trying to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26%- a large proportion of which is to come from reducing levels of deforestation and forest degradation. With more than 28 million Indonesians currently living below the poverty line it begs the question can forest conservation be prioritised over growth?

Indonesia-7-135-logging-Credit J.Rieley

Indonesia is also pledging to boost production of several key agricultural commodities, including doubling its palm oil production, further increasing its status as one of the leading exporters of oil palm in the world. As was pointed out in ODI’s key commodities driving forest loss paper earlier in the year, the country subsidises the production of oil palm in order to generate growth and stimulate the economy. Indeed, having travelled through Kalimantan, it is striking to see just how much palm oil plantations are changing the landscape.

But experience in other countries shows that replacing primary forest with homogenous crops reduces levels of biodiversity. Will the demand for palm oil outstrip our desire and ability to protect forests and biodiversity?

As in places like Indonesia, the world’s insatiable desire for palm oil is dramatically changing the landscape, and it is crazy to think that palm oil is hidden in an array of products you wouldn’t necessarily think of, from shampoo to Nutella. Leading to the question does it really need to be there? Sustainable palm oil, promoted through efforts such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), is an option, but ultimately this requires market uptake and a change in consumer habits. This seems like a long way off, so I’ve been wondering if there’s any way for REDD+ to be incorporated into the solution?

Having conducted research on the Governance of REDD+ in Indonesia I saw first-hand that Indonesia is trying to utilise REDD+ and make it work in its own way. REDD+ is still a fluid and changing multi-actor system, and it has some really promising projects on the ground, such as the Forest Program – Support for the Ministry of Indonesia[1]. There are also Darwin projects which have and will assist Indonesia in its quest to protect and preserve forests and biodiversity, such as the Berbak to the Future project and the Establishment and Management of Nantu National Park. At the moment it is too early to tell if these projects will have a positive lasting impact on the ground.

Indonesia is a very promising REDD+ case study, but it just isn’t quite the final product yet. As a recent WRI blog points out, the extension of the moratorium[2] on new forest concession licences shows Indonesia’s government to be moving in the right direction with reducing its deforestation levels, and the government is reigniting its REDD+ Agenda, another positive step for forests, biodiversity and people!

Indonesia-7-135-channel1-Credit J.Rieley

So, given that palm oil is a considerable carbon stock after all, is there potential to incorporate palm oil into REDD+? Or do the potentially negative consequences for forests and biodiversity prevent palm oil being considered for REDD+?! These are some of the crucial questions we should be asking in order to promote the synergies between development and biodiversity in Indonesia, as well as globally. It’s a big task, so the jury is still out on whether REDD+ can actually achieve it.

I’d be interested to hear if the Darwin Initiative community have any opinions or evidence on this. Are you hopeful about the potential for REDD+ to reduce forest degradation, address poverty and biodiversity, and contribute to GHG mitigation?

[1] Forest Program – Support for the Ministry of Indonesia is funded by BMZ Germany through KfW. The program is focusing on REDD+ through SFM improvement, forest protection, and improve livelihood of local communities.

[2] In May 2011, the government of Indonesia released Presidential Instruction No. 10/2011 on the postponement of issuance of new licences and improving governance of primary natural forest and peatland. The Presidential Instruction, which effectively imposes a 2-year moratorium on new forest concession licences, generated widespread public discourse and important policy implications. It is this moratorium that has been extended beyond its original 2 year period.

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Author: darwininitiativeuk

The Darwin Initiative is a UK government grants scheme that helps to protect biodiversity and the natural environment through locally based projects worldwide.

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