Serious mismanagement of Indonesia's forests is undermining efforts to cut carbon emissions and leading to land disputes, a Human Rights Watch study says
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indonesia’s forestry sector suffers from serious mismanagement and the situation has only worsened in the past few years, costing the government over $7 billion since 2007, researchers at Human Rights Watch (HRW) say in a new report.
These failures are already harming the environment and human rights, and call into question the outlook for Indonesia’s “green growth” development plan, the study says.
The report, an update from a 2009 look at Indonesia’s forestry sector, found that the Indonesian government has lost forest revenue at an increased rate in recent years, despite reforms aimed at reducing mismanagement and corruption.
The losses are a result of illegal logging, unreported subsidies to timber companies and uncollected fees. It’s money that could go toward much-needed services; just one year of losses in 2011 totaled over $2 billion, more than the country’s entire annual health budget, the report said.
There are other costs, too. Mismanagement has led to confusion over land claims, often resulting in conflict and sometimes violence. The government has increasingly responded with military action, a step backward in human rights, the report said.
Indonesia’s forests are also considered an important factor in curbing climate change as they absorb and hold carbon, acting as “sinks.” But illegal logging has increased deforestation above reported levels, said Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights Division at HRW.
“Indonesia says it has a lot of forests to trade carbon off of, when in fact because it doesn’t control logging, it doesn’t have the amount of forests it claims,” he said. “That’s a huge problem because if climate strategies are going to work, governments have to accurately report what they have.”
The HRW report’s findings contrast with Indonesia’s claims that expanding its forestry industries and clearing land for increased palm oil and pulp production are good for its “green growth” strategy – a national plan to promote economic growth in more sustainable ways.
“What people often don’t realise is how some efforts that seem to combat climate change are fraught with their own problems,” Ganesan said.
GREEN INTENTIONS, POOR RESULTS
In Indonesia’s case, poor governance means “green” efforts in some cases exacerbate environmental and human rights issues. One of the most recent examples is the smog that posed a major public health hazard across Southeast Asia, the result of forest fires used to clear forest land for palm-oil plantations in Indonesia. Though the government has been put under pressure over the problem, it’s been mostly dismissive of complaints from neighboring countries, he said.
Confusion over land claims, in part the result of government inaction, also has prolonged conflicts over land. Lack of information, a backlash against land protests and activists, and often a disregard of processes to fairly allocate land allow corporations and other people to move in for their own purposes without consulting those who may already have rights to the land. Confrontations often ensue.
“What I didn’t fully realize until the research was done was how persistent governance problems in the forestry sector would in a sense fuel conflict,” Ganesan said. “One big thing that surprised us was that the conflict appeared to be increasing. There’s clearly more pressure on land for public, private and commercial reasons.”
In order to promote truly green growth, the report advises, the government must follow its own rules and agricultural plantation companies operating in Indonesia must promote good governance as well. It’s also crucial for global players such as the European Union, the United States and the World Bank to add to that pressure, Ganesan said.
“The big thing that needs to happen is the government needs to enforce its laws. But it’s not clear where the momentum is for them to do that,” he said. “If the governance of the sector isn’t right, regardless of your strategy – whether green growth or anything else – it’s not going to work.”
Erin Berger is a Thomson Reuters Foundation intern, writing on climate change issues.
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