Development & Education

Norway pledges $1 billion to stop Indonesia's deforestation

This story is a part of

Human Needs

This story is a part of

Human Needs

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Forest in Indonesia (Image by jaundicedferret (cc:by-nc-sa)).

This story was originally covered by PRI's Living on Earth. For more, listen to the audio above.

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By some estimates, Indonesia is the world's third largest carbon emitter, and much of that carbon is attributed to deforestation. The country's rainforests are being destroyed at an alarming rate to sate the world's appetite for palm oil and pulpwood.

Under the terms of the new agreement, Indonesia would stop clearing forests for two years in exchange for the money. The country already has laws against turning forests into plantations, but the regulations are often ignored. Erik Solheim, Norway's Minister of Environment and International Development, told PRI's Living on Earth that the agreement is a sign Indonesia is serious about stopping deforestation:

This is a very brave step of president Yudhoyono making a moratorium. It may be he's taking a big political risk and he should be praised for taking that step.

Agreements like this one—known as REDD, for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation—are controversial in environmental circles. Writing for Yale Environment 360, Rhett Butler outlined some of the potential problems.

Ensuring land rights and financial benefits for forest inhabitants; establishing baselines to accurately measure reductions in deforestation rates; causing “leakage,” when conservation measures in one area shift deforestation to another; and concerns that developed countries would merely invest in REDD projects as a way of continuing to emit large quantities of greenhouse gases.

In Brazil, anti-deforestation efforts have already led to abuses of human rights. A report by Mother Jones and the Center for Investigative Reporting looked into a project by the Nature Conservancy, together with General Motors, Chevron and American Electric Power to stop deforestation in Brazil. The report found that indigenous people inside those forests, who have some of the smallest environmental footprints in the world, are being harassed and kicked off their land for a project by some of the world's biggest polluters.

Many questions still remain about the deal between Indonesia and Norway, too. Fred Stolle, a forest specialist for the environmental think tank The World Resources Institute, told Living on Earth that the interested parties will have to answer a lot of questions:

Which is the institute who is getting that money? Will that institute work with Ministry of Forestry or the Ministry On Climate or the Ministry on Environment? How is the money divided? Does anybody in the field see the money? There's no definition for natural forest, so secondary forest is not natural- can that still be converted? Are there enough projects to do with a billion dollars in a relatively short time frame?

The stakes for Indonesia couldn't be higher. Salman al-Farisi, a diplomat at Indonesia's embassy in Washington DC, drove home the importance:

If we fail to do something on forests we will lose about two thousand islands in Indonesia. So this is not only environment, but also existence of our territory.

Hosted by Steve Curwood, "Living on Earth" is an award-winning environmental news program that delves into the leading issues affecting the world we inhabit. More "Living on Earth."