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Climate change: Better REDD than dead?

Indonesia is taking a bigger role in its CO2 responsibilities.

This, the World Bank says, makes Indonesia the world’s third-largest emitter, behind the United States and China. Although the Indonesian government rejects that label, it admits that a large part of reaching its planned emission cuts will need to be through curbing deforestation.

Enter REDD.

“REDD is very important to Indonesia’s long-term environment plan,” said Frances Seymour, director general of the Center for International Forestry Research. “The president’s recently announced commitment to cut carbon emissions cannot be reached without reductions in emissions from deforestation and degradation.”

Over the last several years, Indonesia has become one of the world’s “hot spots” for REDD demonstration projects and has emerged as a driving force behind the plan. Indonesia hosted the United Nations Climate Conference in Bali in 2007, which produced the Bali Action Plan. It convened the “F11” group of forested countries and it has been one of the first countries to develop regulations to govern REDD.

But as full implementation creeps forward, so does a bevy of obstacles.

Governing REDD will require unprecedented levels of inter-governmental collaboration. Many of the key drivers of deforestation come from outside the forestry sector, such as the ministries of mining, industry and transportation. But such collaboration is virtually nonexistent in the current Indonesian government.

Meanwhile, ownership and control of significant areas of Indonesia’s forests are contested between government agencies, private companies and local communities. All these conflicts, many of them dating back decades, would need to be resolved before the rightful stewards of forest areas can be compensated by REDD schemes.

Perhaps most daunting for Indonesia are problems of legality and corruption. For REDD to be successful, Indonesia will have to institute effective controls on forest crime and develop ways to ensure REDD revenue remains transparent and accountable.

And indigenous groups worry that for them it will be the same old story. Powerful interests would position themselves as the legitimate stewards of the land in order to capture REDD revenue streams, causing indigenous groups to lose access to their forest-based livelihoods.

Still, Indonesia remains optimistic that REDD is the answer to that old stumbling block: “Why should we sacrifice our own development and economy to save an environment destroyed by the already developed world?”

“Many efforts to address deforestation in Indonesia over the last few decades have not shown significant results,” Seymour, whose global operations are based near Jakarta, said. “Currently, government policies that drive forest conversion are justified on the basis of their potential to promote development. If REDD can provide an alternative source of income that can compete with the revenues available from other land uses, it could provide a rationale for change.”

In a sense, Seymour said, REDD could be a mechanism for correcting the market failures that led to the over-exploitation of forests to begin with.

The markets have never valued the ecosystem services provided by forests. REDD could change that, forcing the market on the side of the forests and ultimately on the side of eliminating climate change.