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ClimateWire: Indonesia Announces 'Unprecedented' Expansion of Land Rights
The Indonesian government has committed to handing over control over much of the country's forests to local communities, a move land-rights proponents believe will help slow the rate of deforestation and reduce the country's carbon emissions.
The Ministry of Forests agreed Friday to meet with representatives of indigenous groups to create a plan of action over the next six months. Together, they will implement the recommendations to expand land rights discussed at a conference in Lombok, Indonesia, last week.
"The policies we have now are not effective in solving the tenure problem, but at least we have committed to doing much better," said Pak Hadi Pasaribu, an official with the Ministry of Forests.
The ministry's announcement came three days after Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, head of the Indonesian president's special delivery unit, announced President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's intention to prioritize adat, or traditional community-based property rights. The government will also formulate an accurate, uniform map of the country to delineate lands and allow community jurisdiction over land.
"Our land encompasses our natural resources. The issue of land tenure undoubtedly influences how we manage our natural resources nationwide as a response to the climate change challenge and for the benefit of the communities living in and around the forests," Kuntoro said in his speech. "Hence, we can not address the sustainable use of our natural resources if we do not appropriately address the complexities of land tenure -- that is, how access is granted to the rights to use, control and transfer land, as well as define associated responsibilities and constraints."
Andy White, coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative, an indigenous rights advocacy group and co-organizer of the conference, called the announcement 'unprecedented' in the Indonesia's history.
"[Kuntoro] is the highest-level government official ever to make such a commitment," he said.
Although neither one of the two announcements carried binding targets for land rights, the publicity of the commitments carry an important weight, said White.
"Since they were made in public, to an international audience, there's also an unprecedented role for international society to hold [the Indonesian government] to it," he said.
The conference covered land tenure throughout Asia and highlighting the role it has played in the slowing deforestation in the continent. The juxtaposition of some countries like China brightened the need for reform in Indonesia.
"Broader community involvement in forest management in a number of Asian countries has enabled reduced deforestation, increased restoration of forest and increased livelihood security to communities," said Leif John Fosse, senior adviser with the Norwegian Climate and Forest Initiative. "Indonesia is one of the exceptions to this picture, where community forestry currently makes up less than 1 percent of the forest estate."
Indonesia, the host of the 2007 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change conference, emits more than 400 million tonnes of carbon per year, much of it due to clear-cutting, forest fires and the draining of carbon-rich peat lands for development. Palm oil, an ingredient in many foods, consumer products and biofuels, found its niche in the Indonesian landscape, with heavy consequences on its forests and peatlands.
The president has set an emissions-reduction target of 26 percent from business as usual by 2020 using its own resources, and a reduction of 41 percent with the support of international community. The government of Norway last year offered $1 billion in aid to help the country reduce its emissions.
The Ministry of Forests controls about 70 percent of the country's forests, according to the Rights and Resources Initiative.
Land rights offer environmental, economic gains
Several studies were released to coincide with the Lombok meeting, including an analysis that criticized the Indonesian government for not expanding the rights of its indigenous communities. Dominic Elson, a researcher with the research firm Trevaylor Consulting, found that attitudes on land in the country has a serious effect on how policies for land tenure were handled.
"In Indonesia there is an unhappy combination of indiscriminate deforestation, low genuine savings, lack of investment in people and grassroots enterprises and thus an unsustainable economic trajectory," he wrote in the paper. Political protection and poor oversight also allow large concessions to be badly run, with both economic and environmental inefficiency.
Elson suggested that a reform in the land tenure system would "attract a new kind of investment to the forestry sector, a combination of national, international and local resources that would revitalize the forest industry, restore landscapes, reduce vulnerability to both economic and natural disasters and set in motion the kind of broad-based democratic economic development that will see Indonesia come closer to achieving its enormous potential."
The link between land tenure and deforestation is one that has repeated around the world, said Steve Schwartzman, director for tropical forest policy at the Environmental Defense Fund, drawing parallels to the Amazon in South America.
"The government hands out a very large number of resource concessions, often on territories traditionally inhabited by local communities, which has led to a lot of deforestation," he said. "Typically, the local communities don't benefit much, if at all, from the drivers of deforestation. They're not the big beneficiaries of oil palm or timber [in Indonesia], or cattle ranching in the Amazon."
"It's not that local communities are [always] perfect stewards of the lands," he continued. But usually, their advantage does not lie in poorly exploiting their resources.
"It's still the case that they typically don't want to be poor any more than we do," said Schwartzman.
Last month, the Center for International Forestry Research, based in Bogor, Indonesia, released findings that the poorest forest dwellers did not cause the bulk of deforestation. The richest 20 percent of households were responsible for 30 percent more deforestation than the poorest 20 percent.
Land rights and access to natural resources are an important piece in the development of the United Nations' Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program. The program, launched in 2008, provides a framework for rewarding countries that choose to conserve forests.
Indigenous forest dwellers, however, could be be susceptible to losing control of their land through REDD+, as well, say critics. Criminals known as "carbon cowboys" could set up exploitative contracts that would strip a community's control of resources.
Indigenous groups like the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago have been critical of REDD+, as well, for the lack of discussion of land rights.
In addition, a highly anticipated moratorium on new permits to clear-cut forests was violated on the first day it was implemented, a blow to the government's perceived control of the industry.
"I think it demonstrated the weakness of the moratorium and the challenge of all REDD initiatives," said White. "That is indeed why there is some hope with these announcement last week. ... REDD+ will only work and deforestation will stop when forests [are] in the hands of people who want to keep forests."
Posted By Adam Houston at 1:20pm on July 18, 2011
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