Indonesia — Indigenous people in Kalimantan on the island of Borneo are worried about an Australian-backed project to protect local forests.
Kalimantan is part of Indonesia which is one of the world’s largest carbon emitters because of logging, forest fires and the drying out of peat swamps.
During his recent trip to the country, US president Barack Obama promised $700 million for climate change and forest conservation projects.
Australia has committed $120 million towards two forest projects, but indigenous people in Kalimantan fear the project will deny them access to their traditional customs and livelihoods.
Muliadi is a member of the Dayak tribe in central Kalimantan. For as long as he can remember his people have used the forests for their livelihood and traditions.
“I perform all the activities a Dayak will… I will farm and I will grow a bit of cash crop. I go fishing, I love fishing,” he said.
“When I fish I only take what’s enough for my needs. I will not take everything just because I can fetch more money. That’s not the Dayak way.”
During the late 1990s many of the peat swamps that Muliadi depends on were drained to make way for the mega-rice scheme under former president Suharto.
Now the Australian Government is funding a project to protect and restore 100,000 hectares of the peat swamp forest.
It is a pilot Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) project.
But Muliadi is worried once again that his community is not being consulted about the design or the potential impact of this project.
“If the REDD project – although its intention to reduce carbon emissions seems good – but for us, the indigenous local community, we are losing our rights to the land and forest,” he said.
“Of course we will be protesting to try and regain the access and use of this area.
“To date we are still unclear as to what our customary rights are in relation to the project site, and that’s an issue we are really worried about.
“We have not spoken with anybody from Australia that are involved in the REDD project where we can air our concerns.”
Australia is committed to fund two pilot REDD projects; one in Kalimantan and one in Jambi province on the island of Sumatra.
It is part of Australia’s financial commitment to help developing countries tackle climate change under the Copenhagen Accord – also known as fast start finance.
But Arie Rompas, the executive director of the non-governmental organisation WAHLI in Central Kalimantan, says he doubts the projects will make much difference.
He says the rights of indigenous people are largely being ignored in the REDD deals.
“REDD sounds good on paper, but in Central Kalimantan the government has already permitted to convert about 2.1 million hectares of land and forests into oil palm and mining, and that has led to massive destruction of forest,” he said.
“So it is an illusion to think that one small, little REDD project is going to make any difference, both to reduce carbon pollution in Indonesia and also globally.”
So far Norway has made the biggest commitment to Indonesia, promising $1 billion in return for a two-year moratorium on logging.
But Teguh Surya, the campaigns director for WAHLI, says countries like Norway and Australia should first reduce their own emissions at home.
“Australia is a key importer of timber from Indonesia. You have a commitment to ban illegal timber here, but until now you have not acted on it,” he said.
“And as long as there is a demand for illegal timber, illegal logging will continue in Indonesia. So that’s one of the issues that needs to be addressed which will be a lot more easier and clearer than a complex project like REDD.”
PM contacted Climate Change Minister Greg Combet but there has been no response.
Earlier this year Neil Scotland, the coordinator of the Indonesia-Australia Forest Carbon Partnership, told PM the REDD projects were an opportunity to manage these forests sustainably.
He maintains the poor communities who live next to these forests will benefit from the climate change funding.