Opinion: RFN on Indonesia-Norway ten year partnership

Ten years ago: a historic day for Indonesia’s forests and forest-dependent communities.

The rainforest in Boven Digoel in 2017. Photo: Nanang Sujana/The Gecko Project/Earthsight.

May 26, 2010 marked the beginning of “forestry” in Indonesia being treated as a fully cross-sectoral opportunity, rather than a singular technical management challenge.

A new chapter

It also began a new chapter in the design of international bilateral relationships on forest ecosystem management and climate, in this case between two unlikely partners.

A “Letter of Intent” (LoI), signed 10 years ago this month, between Republic of Indonesia and the Kingdom of Norway created a framework for cooperation on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

This partnership is the direct result the 2007 “Bali Action Plan” adopted during the 13th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held that year in Indonesia.

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    This opinion piece was originally published on ForestHints.News on May 22, 2020.

"Perhaps the most important lesson learned over the past decade is that "forestry" now presents itself as both a development challenge and an opportunity."

Øyvind Eggen, Executive Director, Rainforest Foundation Norway

It was also built upon global commitments made by then Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his leadership at the 2009 G-20 meetings held in Pittsburgh USA.

A “Long and Winding Road”.

Rather than a straight-forward pathway, as laid out in the LoI, this partnership better resembles the 1970 Beatles “Long and Winding Road”, a poignant song of unexpected twists and turns that sweetly asks, “Don’t keep me waiting here, lead me to your door”.

After 10 years of partnership, it is good to reflect on just who has been waiting for whom and to whose door is this road leading?

The Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) has been an active participant in this sometimes frustrating yet productive ten-year partnership.

Together with our NGO partners in Indonesia, we have, at times, played a bridging role between two different cultures who share the common objective of striving to protect some of the world’s most important rainforests by sustaining them through innovative performance-based mechanisms and recognizing the pivotal role Indonesia’s indigenous communities play in this process.

A number of 'firsts'.

While this road has led to numerous misunderstandings and intermittent disappointments, it has nonetheless produced a number of firsts.

Indonesia was the first, in the post Bali Action Plan period, to prioritize the role of Indigenous Communities in rainforest management and to create specific forest management programs for these peoples.

Indonesia is also the first country in the world to create a government agency specifically dedicated to reducing land-based greenhouse gas emissions.

Equally important, Indonesia is the first to implement bans on further conversion of vast areas of primary tropical rainforests and carbon dense peat ecosystems.

Today, under the current leadership of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Indonesia has expanded its capability to implement social forestry approaches and now has a large division dedicated solely to addressing climate change.

Significant reductions in deforestation

In addition, transparency in forest industry licensing and forest change monitoring has increased exponentially when compared to previous administrations. Most importantly, there is global consensus that these efforts have led, in the past two years, to significant reductions in deforestation.

Norway will soon fulfil its role in the partnership and send tens of millions of dollars that Indonesian President Joko Widodo said recently will be used to support community-based forestry.

Perhaps the most important lesson learned over the past decade is that "forestry" now presents itself as both a development challenge and an opportunity.

Nothing makes this more apparent than the current Minister of Environment and Forestry Dr. Ir. Siti Nurbaya Bakar, being Indonesia's first Minister who does not come from the forestry community but is a highly experienced civil servant who brings a cross- sectoral development planning perspective to the management of Indonesia's vast forest estate.

This approach is based on the integrated and sustainable management of all natural resources within the forest estate and respects the rights of local forest-based communities.

Formidable challenges remain

Yet this brings with it, formidable challenges and competing business-as-usual economic and political interests. Continued challenges include forest conversion licences that routinely destroy primary rainforests in all high forest cover provinces.

The recent destruction of primary forests in Tanah Merah, Boven Digoel district in Papua for the planting of palm oil plantations is a clear example. Parts of this 280,000-hectare area designated for palm oil plantations by the previous Forestry Minister have been deforested as these licences were issued prior to the moratorium.

Remote sensing evidence points to one company clear cutting over 200 hectares of primary rainforest in just the past few months.

Setting the stage

So the challenges continue and it is not unreasonable to see these first ten years as just setting the stage on which Indonesia, Norway and the international community will continue to collaborate and innovate to achieve Indonesia’s vision of deep reductions in deforestation and sustainable economies based on the rights and abilities of local communities.

No doubt this winding road will continue into the next period of partnership and those of us who support Indonesia on this path will stay the course and recognize the privilege in doing so.

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