Indonesia's president announced a two-year moratorium on new concessions to convert virgin forests and peat lands into plantations, part of an internationally backed strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation. The announcement by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono came on the eve of an international conference in Oslo, Norway, on climate change and deforestation.
Norway will provide $1 billion to Indonesia to help with the effort to reduce deforestation.
Indonesia is one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases because of rampant clearing and burning of its forests and peat lands for logging and conversion into palm oil and pulp plantations. The country has long been a target of harsh criticisms from environmental groups who have accused the government of failing to enforce its own laws.
Yudhoyono said the halt on new concessions would start in 2010 as part of a broader strategy to reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent by 2020.
In 2007 the Indonesian government had approved a similar moratorium, but it was lifted the following year.
Deforestation accounts for almost a fifth of total greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. The Indonesia-Norway partnership to cut emissions is part of a broader international strategy called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, or REDD, that would make stored carbon dioxide in tropical forests a commodity that can be bought and sold on the global market.
And here are emerging doubts environmental associations: financing REDD through carbon trading would mean that the North can delay effective and radical action to stop the burning of fossil fuels by offsetting its emissions with carbon stored in forests. Trading forest carbon allows pollution to continue somewhere else. The result is no reduction in emissions.
There are several concerns about the way REDD is currently developing: the failure to recognise Indigenous Peoples' rights and to consult with Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and the UN definition of forests fails to differentiate between plantations and forests, meaning that companies could replace forests with monoculture tree plantations and still qualify for subsidies under REDD.
Trading carbon stored in forests could lead to a massive land grab that would leave Indigenous Peoples and forest-dependent communities with nothing. One year ago, the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) criticised Indonesia's draft 2008 Regulation on Implementation Procedures for REDD as incompatible with the rights of indigenous peoples. This regulation would allow the government to hand out forest concessions for carbon capture much as it has dealt out logging concessions in the past. CERD recommended that this draft and other laws be reviewed to ensure consistency with the rights of indigenous peoples to control their traditionally owned territories and to consent to activities that may affect them, such as REDD.