Carbon for forests will help Aceh recover from war, tsunami
September 18, 2007
Aceh Governor Irwandi Jusuf, a former rebel who was one of only 40 survivors after the December 2004 tsunami struck the prison where he was incarcerated, is now one of Indonesia's leading supporters of forest conservation funded through carbon credits.
"The world needs more forests to store carbon," he said. "Aceh can give you these forests. This is my obsession -- the forests of Aceh need to be kept well."
In one of his first moves as governor, Irwandi in March declared a moratorium on all logging in the province, which had seen an up tick in timber cutting for tsunami reconstruction efforts. The move -- met with derision by some in the Indonesian forestry sector -- was welcomed by environmentalists and appears to have diminished legal and illegal logging, which is rampant in other parts of the country. Irwandi says that protecting Aceh's forests -- which are some of the largest blocks of rainforest remaining on the island of Sumatra -- is his top priority for rebuilding the economy. The next step, he says, is to promote economic growth through sustainable development and reforestation.
"I see three areas," he continued. "Areas of no harvest which are preserved for wildlife, carbon, and other services; community forestry areas where degraded lands are replanted with fruit and timber trees that are then sustainably managed; and the remaining land for oil palm and rubber plantations.
Irwandi says that Aceh needs money to start the program and believes that funds could come from carbon credits through avoided deforestation.
"I think within six years we could have the world's biggest forest carbon offset program," he said.
Avoided deforestation is the process by which forested countries earn carbon credits for protecting forests that lock up large amounts of carbon. Deforestation is a major source of greenhouse gases, accounting for roughly 20 percent of global emissions. Steps to reduce forest clearing and degradation will help mitigate climate change.
Most of Sumatra's lowland rainforest has been cleared by loggers and for oil palm plantations. The conflict in Aceh effectively protected the province's forests by preventing such development.
Under the existing Kyoto agreement, only reforestation and afforestation are eligible for carbon credits -- forest protection is specifically excluded from receiving carbon credits -- but considerable momentum for avoided deforestation makes it likely that the mechanism will be carefully considered during the next round of climate talks in Bali, Indonesia in December. Last week a group of eight tropical countries containing 80 percent of the world's remaining tropical forest cover -- Brazil, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Gabon, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Congo and Indonesia -- announced an alliance to push avoided deforestation at the upcoming conference.
Irwandi, a veterinarian by trade, was formerly a rebel leader with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), a separatist movement that the Indonesian government has battled for decades. Arrested in 2003, Irwandi was held at Keudah Prison in Banda Aceh when the December 26, 2004 tsunami struck and flooded the facility. Irwandi survived by punching a hole through the ceiling and fleeing to the roof. He was one of 40 survivors at the prison. During the reconciliation that followed the tsunami, Irwandi was elected governor in Aceh's first democratic election in almost 30 years. The soldiers who once hunted him are now his guards.