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UN report gives Indonesia low marks in forest governance

A new UN report exposes serious flaws in Indonesia’s forest governance, serving as a wake up call to policy makers aiming to conserve forests in the country, which boasts the third largest area of tropical forest coverage in the world.

On Monday, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) together with the Government of Indonesia launched a comprehensive forest governance index, which evaluates forest governance at the central, provincial and district levels and offers policy recommendations designed to better equip the country to conserve forests and peatlands.

The report evaluated 117 indicators related to forest governance at the national and local levels in 2012, scoring governance at each level on a scale of 1 to 5. Overall, the country scored just 2.33 out of the maximum 5 points, a figure that prompted the country’s forestry minister to admit that reforming the sector would be no easy task.

“Indeed it is not easy, including for me, to understand forestry problems,” Minister Zulkifli Hasan said at the report launch on Monday in Jakarta, as quoted by Mongabay-Indonesia.

Forest governance scores for various regions in Indonesia according to UNDP’s index. Click image to enlarge.

The report was meant to serve as a baseline for improving forest governance in Indonesia, particularly to strengthen the implementation of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) programs. Indonesia, with its large forest area and high deforestation rates, has been front and center in REDD+ readiness efforts, however corruption and bureaucratic hurdles have made it difficult for projects to get off the ground.

The index evaluated governance at the central government and in 10 provinces and 20 districts throughout the country. The central government scored highest, with 2.78 points, while provinces and districts performed worse – averaging 2.39 and 1.8 points, respectively.

At the provincial level, Aceh received the lowest score, 2.07 out of 5 points. The province has recently come under fire for a new spatial plan that would open 1.2 million hectares of forest for mining, logging and palm oil production. At the other end of the scale, West Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo scored highest, with 2.73 points.

For the districts, however, scores were significantly lower. Most district scores hovered at or below 2 points, with the poorest-performing district – Fakfak in West Papua – scoring just 1.4. Districts hold much of the power to grant concessions and manage forests in Indonesia, so low governance scores at the district level could have a profound effect on conservation efforts. This highlights one of the major challenges to improving forest governance in Indonesia, where local government corruption is a widespread problem.

New canal draining an area of peat swamp in Central Kalimantan.

UNDP Indonesia country director Beate Trankmann said the information summarized in the report is important for the assessment of forests in different regions in Indonesia, Mongabay-Indonesia reported.

“Looking ahead, we need to prioritize attention to issues including land conflicts, improving law enforcement in the forestry sector and management.”

The UNDP recommendations also called for an end to high fees and bribes in the handling of forest permits and improving REDD+ infrastructure in the country.

Kuntoro Mangkusobroto, head of the country’s REDD+ task force, said the report was indeed a reflection of the current state of forest governance in Indonesia.

“Flowery reports and lip service are no longer relevant,” Kuntoro said at Monday’s launch, as quoted in Mongabay-Indonesia. He hopes this report can be used as a benchmark for improving forest governance in Indonesia, and that going forward, similar reports can be released on a regular basis. “This is the beginning of how we can paint a picture [of the situation] every two or three years. So, we can track the progress and setbacks.”

Engaging with local governments about the index results, Kuntoro said, will also be critical going forward. “We need to meet with governors, district heads and mayors, because they have authority over 85 percent [of forest areas] and hold responsibility for changes in forest areas and land.”

Illegal sawmill in Indonesian Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

The report launch comes just two weeks before Indonesia’s two-year moratorium on the conversion of primary forests and peatlands is set to expire. The moratorium was signed in 2011 as part of a $1 billion climate change mitigation deal with Norway. Improving forest governance was one of the main objectives of the two-year moratorium, a goal the new index indicates may still be a long way off.

Indeks Tata Kelola Hutan, Lahan, dan REDD+ 2012 di Indonesia [in Indonesian]

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