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$103m UN climate fund for Indonesia “shameful” – letter

A UN decision to give Indonesia $103 million (£77m) to help it reduce carbon emissions and tackle forest fires has been called “shameful” by 85 civil society groups, including 15 from Indonesia.

The UN’s Green Climate Fund (GCF), set up to help poor countries curb their emissions and cope with the impacts of climate change, granted the funds to Indonesia on the back of “progress Indonesia made in 2014-2016,” according to Indonesia’s environment and forestry minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar.

But a letter to GCF board members signed by 85 civil society groups said it was “shameful” for the board to reward governments “that continue to heavily engage in and promote large-scale deforestation”.

“The GCF is paying governments for supposed results arising from reduced deforestation in the past. These emission reductions are likely to exist on paper only,” says the letter.

“By using inflated reference levels, a country can calculate emission reductions from avoided deforestation even if deforestation rates are rising. What is shameful is that the GCF accepts such games and allows governments to ignore the overall far more complex dynamic of the deforestation process in time and space,” it continues.

Indonesia’s ministry claims that between January and July 2020 around 64,000 hectares (158,000 acres) were burned, compared with 137,000 hectares over the same period last year.  Analysis of satellite data showed the forest land thought to have been cleared in the first 24 weeks of 2020 was actually higher than the same period last year.

A report by WWF Germany found that in March 2020 alone, forest clearance in Indonesia rose 130% compared to the three-year average for March 2017 to 2019 with an estimated 130,000 hectares destroyed – the greatest recorded loss of any country that month.

This is not the first time that Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s biggest producer of palm oil has received REDD+ payments, a program that rewards developing nations that successfully reduce emissions by protecting their forests. In 2017 and 2018, Indonesia was awarded its first instalment of funds.

Under REDD+, £172 million ($230m) has been given to Brazil, Ecuador, Chile and Paraguay. In each country, deforestation has risen following the claim period, according to Global Forest Watch data.

The majority of wildfires in Indonesia are illegal, done to clear land for rubber, palm oil and other valuable commodities. These fires can quickly grow out of control and cause devastation to ecosystems and human health.

Farmers typically burn forests at the start of the dry season to prepare for planting. But the haze generated by these fires is harmful to hundreds of thousands of people each year, and spreads as far as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

“In Indonesia, air pollution in major cities comes from vehicles, but in places like South Sumatra and Riau, it’s land and forest fires,” said Budi Haryanto, a researcher on climate change and environmental health at the University of Indonesia. “So it’s true that [haze from forest fires] will exacerbate the risks to human health.”

Indonesia’s fires have been increasing in frequency and intensity since the 1990s. Particularly bad years used to be an anomaly but have recently become a regular occurrence as large-scale agriculture has expanded across the country.

Indonesia has set a target to reduce emissions by 41% by 2030 with international assistance, 29% without. This goal will be unattainable if forest and peat fires continue to spike every few years. Peatlands store 20 times as much carbon as other soils, and daily emissions from the 2015 fires season surpassed that of the entire US economy.

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As consumers’ we are hugely powerful. Of course, we’re not directly responsible for illegal deforestation, but we are buying into the system that perpetuates it.

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