Forest protection has major role to play in tackling climate change

Independent sustainability and environment adviser Tony Juniper discusses the importance of protecting rainforests as Belantara, a foundation focused on delivering an innovative new direct funding platform to protect Indonesian rainforests, opens its doors for business.

papua aerial forests
A forested landscape in Indonesia. The country has the fastest deforestation rate in the world, a fact which is often blamed on the rapidly expanding palm oil, pulp and paper, and other agribusiness sectors operating in its forests. Image: Shutterstock

The United Nations climate negotiations in Paris last December proved a critical moment for the environment as world leaders came together and agreed to a deal to keep temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius. From a forestry perspective, the conference, or COP 21, was also a major milestone in addressing the impact of forest degradation and profiling the need for forest restoration as part of a holistic approach to managing climate change.

Historically, the challenge with forest conversation and restoration has, perhaps surprisingly, not always been about a lack of finance, but in many instances has been a lack of effective mechanisms to implement programmes on the forest floor. In fact, whilst billions of dollars have been pledged around the globe for forest conservation in recent years, much of this has gone unspent and the money which has been spent has failed to make a real impact on the ground.

Of course, there are numerous reasons why efforts to date have proved ineffective. For example, a single plot of land might have multiple claims on it, be under threat from illegal logging and illegal clearance. In addition there is the persistent threat of forest fires and more often than not, local community wishes for economic development are in conflict with conservation goals. All of that sits below the practical difficulties of trying to bring everyone together to implement a single plan, making progress a real challenge.

So what might be the solution to this complex challenge? The Belantara Foundation, a new Indonesian based organisation, which is focused on implementing effective mechanisms to funnel finance directly to programmes working on the ground across Indonesia believes that the key is the adoption of landscape scale conservation action plans that can unite diverse interests behind the implementation of a single scheme.

The work of the Foundation, which was formed by Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), will be overseen by an Advisory Board appointed in February 2016, consisting of widely respected individuals drawn from the government, non-profit and corporate sectors.

As an independent organisation, the Foundation will work with communities, civil society, government and businesses to help ensure a careful balance is found between economic development, the livelihoods of people in local communities and environmental conservation. This involves overseeing natural forest restoration and endangered species protection and conducting studies to strengthen sustainable landscape management. In addition, the Foundation will support community empowerment and local economic development, especially in areas that rely heavily on natural resources.

In landscapes bisected by palm oil, paper, or other agribusiness concession boundaries, the management of ecosystems at the scale needed is often impossible in isolation, making collaboration essential in the fight to save what remains of Indonesia’s natural forests.

Landscapes are also an essential aspect of successful conservation because substantial areas of habitat are needed by large animals such as tigers, elephant and orang-utans. Furthermore, keeping carbon in the ground and out of the sky requires landscape scale plans too. However, in landscapes bisected by palm oil, paper, or other agribusiness concession boundaries, the management of ecosystems at the scale needed is often impossible in isolation, making collaboration essential in the fight to save what remains of Indonesia’s natural forests.

On a personal note, it is the involvement of the private sector, all levels of Indonesian government and civil society which gives me optimism that the Belantara Foundation is embedded and communicating with all of the key stakeholders and has the potential to succeed where others have failed.

Belantara, along with Yapeka, APP and other partners has identified 10 landscapes which will forms the organisations initial focus – two in Kalimantan and eight in Sumatra, including in the Berbak Sembilang landscape where among many other things its notable for holding the last remaining large areas of mangrove forest in western Indonesia.

Mapping of community uses of the land is going to be an important task. So will be fire control, and the enforcement of protected areas. Another critical job will be the building of consensus between the different stakeholder groups.

However, as Belantara opens its doors for business and the hard work begins I would urge others to join us. Forest conservation and restoration is not just the responsibility of the producers or producing countries. It’s the responsibility of society globally, including those who have benefited from deforestation as ultimately we all have a stake in the outcome.


Tony Juniper is a member of the Belantara Foundation Advisory Board. This piece was written exclusively for Eco-Business.

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