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SZ: We see that in the United States, where our regulatory system divides forests from wetlands and wetlands from navigable waters, even though they are all part of one ecosystem. We do have mitigation banking for habitat and wetlands, but then carbon comes along and creates this one measurable output that is so incredibly fungible. Everything seems to gravitate towards it.

HP: Then you put that to the power of the number of countries, which is 190, and you see the challenge of creating a global system based on landscapes thinking.

SZ: So, how do we fix it?

HP: Globally, I don’t think the current system is salvageable. Whenever one country talks of something as benign as exploring synergies between the conventions, another country kills it, and even within the UNFCCC alone, we’ve seen how long it took to reach this agreement in Warsaw that everyone is so proud of.

Heru Prasetyo addressing delegates to 2014 climate talks in Warsaw

Heru Prasetyo addressing delegates to 2014 climate talks in Warsaw

SZ: You don’t think the Warsaw Rule Book has any value?

HP: I’m not saying it has no value. In fact, the progress made by the UNFCCC in Warsaw for REDD+ was a necessary and long-overdue step. I’m just saying it's not a great achievement, because we should have gotten here years ago. But now that we have the Rule Book, we can begin to see things happening at the national level, at the local level, and multi-bilaterally.

SZ: What’s “multi-bilateral”?

HP: In Indonesia, we are starting on the ground and working our way up, and we are finding that the Rule Book doesn’t really provide answers to our questions – and the odds of finding global agreement on these answers is very low, so you think in terms of specific partners.

Let me give you one example, and it’s one that is very relevant for Indonesia: the Rule Book doesn’t tell us how to account for emissions from peat forests, which are huge compared to regular forests, and that’s particularly relevant to Indonesia because out of 120 million hectares, 80 million is peatland. So, we have two basic types of forests: those on top of hard mineral soil and those on top of peatland. The emission factor of peatland is eight times the emission factor of dry land. If you measure your reference level just from the trees, Indonesia has 120 million hectares, but if you measure it from the emissions, we have at least double that. So when you connect forests and emissions, you need to see forests differently than the way they see them from the sky.

On top of this, we have 250 land systems, including 30 kinds of peat and peatland, and we have our own development patterns: we’re expanding from the west to the east, over three different time zones.

We have a very complex dynamic, but we have this myopic focus on deforestation, which is not a good proxy for emission-reductions. This is very different from Brazil, because there you can connect deforestation with emission reductions in almost all cases.

Then you have our biodiversity. The eastern part of Indonesia has a completely different kind of biodiversity than the west. Biodiversity needs to be seen wall-to-wall. We can’t protect Sumatra the same way we protect Papua, for example, and on top of this, we’re an archipelago. What we do on land impacts the ocean, and the ocean has even more biodiversity than Brazil. If you focus only on forests, you are not biting the hot dog with the meat inside. You’re just biting the bread.
We know this growing up. Putting it into the forum on REDD+, you cannot avoid looking at that.

Because of local variability, I don’t think we’re going to find global common ground on all of these issues. But we do have common ground with Norway and the United Kingdom, and I think we’ll find that we’re in agreement with Germany and the United States as well. If just these countries agree on a set of parameters based on Indonesia, then maybe they can be expanded to other countries that don’t have the land mass that we do and aren’t able to move ahead as quickly as we do.

SZ: So, Indonesia leads the way?

Indonesia and Brazil are leading the way among forest countries in terms of creating multi-bilateral partnerships, but we’re not leading just because we want to. It’s simply a fact that we have what it takes to make this multi-bilateral usable as a reference for others. Guyana doesn't have that. Costa Rica doesn’t have that, either. But Costa Rica can be a pilot project or an expansion project testing specific methodologies across a small, manageable jurisdiction. Guyana can provide the same kind of leadership. But the complexity of Guyana is not comparable to the complexities of Indonesia or of Brazil, for that matter. Once you get the big, complex countries like Brazil and Indonesia figured out, then you can add the smaller countries to a multi-bilateral structure.

It all comes to mean the same thing: we’re building from the bottom up, identifying the problems underneath, and then connecting with the world one-by-one: bilaterally and then multi-bilaterally. Of course, Norway will be a hub, and afterwards Indonesia and Brazil, and maybe a few other satellite multi-bilaterals connecting with Guyana, connecting with Costa Rica, and it becomes big – and it’s the only way.

SZ: So you think the idea of a UNFCCC-style, top-down, global apparatus is just a dream?

HP: No, I think it’s what we’ll evolve into once we achieve critical mass. Out of the 75 countries that are members of the REDD-plus Partnership, of which 50 are actually forested countries, you get maybe 60% of the total forest coverage. Working with that multi-bilateral, you can move to a multilateral much easier than starting from zero and forming a multilateral.

SZ: How has your partnership with Norway made this possible?

HP: That’s what made it possible for us to look at REDD+ from the ground up – from the river, the street, the forest – and to say, “OK, what is the situation?” And what we’re finding is that the situation is no less complex than it is globally, but at least it’s all under our governing structure. So, we created a National REDD+ Strategy, and we’re feeding our findings into the international community.

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