Peatlands destruction in Central Kalimantan.
A $100 million peat conservation project launched in the heart of Indonesian Borneo by the Australian government has been dramatically scaled back and is largely failing to meet expectations, hampering efforts to develop an effective Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) program in Indonesia, concludes a new analysis published by researchers at Australian National University.
Launched in 2007 to much fanfare, the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership (KFCP) aimed to protect 70,000 hectares of peat forests, re-flood 200,000 hectares of drained peat swamp, and plant 100 million trees in Central Kalimantan Province. Project organizers said the initiative would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 700 million tons over 30 years.
But fast-forward to 2012, the project area has been scaled back nearly 90 percent and the plan to block off major canals draining the massive peat swamp has yet to be implemented. Only 50,000 seedlings have been planted, while oil palm plantations are metastasizing across the landscape. Work to determine baseline levels for measuring reductions in emissions has not been completed.
The authors — Erik Olbrei and Stephen Howes — attribute the project’s failure to live up to expectations to several factors, including the “announcement culture” of AusAID, Australia’s overseas development agency, and the positioning the initiative as a REDD demonstration project that could be implemented quickly.
“An announcement culture is one in which aid announceables rather than results are given prominence,” write the authors on a post on the Development Policy Blog. “KFCP was an announceable back in 2007, and its experience illustrates the damage which an announcement culture can do to aid.”
“The quiet way in which the project downsizing has been done has closed off the opportunity for discussion of whether reducing the ambition of the project has increased risks to sustainability. The lack of public disclosure of project reviews and evaluations has prevented the sharing of lessons. Finally, when it does at last become known that KFCP is in fact much smaller than originally announced it will be hard to counter the inevitable impression that Australia is not serious about helping Indonesia stem deforestation.”
Olbrei and Howes add that the project has proved considerably more complex than initially advertised, undercutting momentum needed for it to be considered a good pilot project.
“If a small peatland rehabilitation project could have been undertaken quickly, and if deforestation and peatland conversion were not continuing apace in Indonesia, then focusing on a demonstration or pilot project might have made sense.
However,” they write, “the last four years have revealed that neither of these assumptions is valid. The prospect of large-scale REDD funds arriving some time in the future is too distant and uncertain to provide sufficiently strong incentives to tackle the deep-seated drivers of deforestation and peat conversion in Indonesia.”
Drivers of deforestation in Indonesia range from lack of sufficient governance to expansion of oil palm plantations, which have became a major hurdle for motivating conservation projects in Central Kalimantan.
Since the status quo will likely result in little being achieved on the ground in the form on peatland conversation in Central Kalimantan, Olbrei and Howes argue that if Australia plans to proceed with it project, it should strive for its initial ambitious targets, rather than the recently scaled-back objectives. To conserve funds and focus, the authors recommend scrapping a second AusAID-backed conservation project in Sumatra.
Preparation of a second pilot project in Sumatra should be dropped,” they write. “Australia has its hands full with KFCP, and there is no point starting work on a second pilot in a different geographical location.”
Olbrei and Howes also urge strategic thinking on the “big picture” of what needs to be done to actually reduce deforestation and peatlands destruction.
“This will require both high level political pressure and a much larger amount of aid to provide leverage. The Norwegian government has moved in this direction (with its $1 billion agreement with the Government of Indonesia) but Australia will need to add its weight.”
If Australia is to have any hope of succeeding with its ambitions in Central Kalimantan, Olbrei and Howes conclude that “nothing short of an overhaul of KFCP and of Australia’s overall strategy in Indonesia’s forestry sector will suffice.”
Erik Olbrei & Stephen Howes. DP16 A very real and practical contribution? Lessons from the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership. March 2012