Who will verify Indonesian forest carbon?

The Australian government is spending 40 million dollars to boost Indonesia’s ability to take part in schemes to reduce carbon emissions through deforestation and degradation (REDD). That’s tiny by Norway’s one-billion-dollar standards, and even tinier when you consider how much money Australian-based mining firms make every year from exporting fossil fuels like coal.

That mining industry and Australia’s need to “offset” its massive carbon emissions without actually cutting them explain its enthusiasm for REDD pilot schemes in Indonesia, according to environmentalists.

Australia’s support includes a project to develop Indonesia’s National Carbon Accounting System and Forest Resource Information System, which the Australian government says will “enable Indonesia to measure, report and verify emissions reductions from practical REDD activities”.

Forest rangers in Aceh

This is laudable if it’s sincere and it actually works, of course. Everyone wants REDD to succeed as it could be, if done right, one of the easiest and fastest ways of slowing man-made climate change.

But a cynic could be excused for doubting the sincerity of Australia’s intentions and, by extension, the likelihood that Indonesian REDD projects will make the slightest difference to the climate. This is because Australia will use Indonesian forest offsets to avoid bursting the economic bubble of its China-fuelled mining boom. It has a massive commercial interest in making sure REDD produces “measurable” results in Indonesia in terms of emissions reductions, whether they actually do in reality or not.

This is how it was explained earlier this month by Guy Pearse, a former mining industry lobbyist turned author and green campaigner, in an address to the University of Queensland:

The CPRS [Australia’s proposed national carbon reduction scheme] really only worked if emission cuts could be outsourced en masse to developing countries who are willing to sign up to forest protection deals on the cheap. Federally, the [conservative opposition] wants to rely less on hiding carbon in foreign forests and a lot more on hiding carbon in agricultural soils in our backyard. But the bipartisan intent is much the same — closet the addiction to fossil fuels, especially coal.

The CPRS was abandoned by the Labor Government under Kevin Rudd, but Pearse predicts the new Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard will try to revive some kind of carbon reduction plan if only to greenwash Australia’s climate irresponsibility:

Naturally the federal government wants the appearance of action, perhaps with a new trading scheme or a carbon tax, but expect the same sorts of outsourcing loopholes that allow Australia to use foreign forests and farm paddocks to mask its growing greenhouse pollution.

The United States, meanwhile, has announced a 40-million-dollar aid package to help Indonesia preserve its forests and adapt to climate change – a pretty big job for the funds available. In a press release earlier this week, the US embassy said the four-year project was “expected to result in a 50-percent reduction in the rate of forest degradation and loss from conversion, illegal extraction, over-harvesting and climate change for six million hectares.”

That’s a hell of a big area, considering Australia is spending around 30 million dollars on a 120,000 ha REDD pilot scheme in Kalimantan.

The US press release continued:

It will improve management of 3.5 million hectares of selected tropical forest to deter illegal logging. Changes in land use practices and improved forestry management will result in a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the targeted areas.

I’m not an expert but it strikes me as odd that while Australia is spending 10 million dollars partly to help Indonesia measure carbon reductions from reduced deforestation, the United States already seems to have that problem solved. So much so that it can confidently predict, without offering a shed of evidence in its press statement, that its work will cut emissions by 50 percent in “targeted areas”. 

Let’s not even ask about the possible explosion in emissions from non-targeted areas – who will measure those?

(Photo from the UK Department of International Development via flickr)

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One response to “Who will verify Indonesian forest carbon?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Who will verify Indonesian forest carbon? | Ravespot -- Topsy.com

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