Indonesia set to reduce emissions from landscapes not just forests

International plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation have proven difficult to implement in Indonesia. Nationally appropriate mitigation actions look like being the way to go, say Meine van Noordwijk, Fahmuddin Agus, Sonya Dewi, Herry Purnomo, Betha Lusiana and Grace Villamor in a new policy brief


When scientists found that Indonesia had the highest land-based emissions of greenhouse gases, primarily caused by deforestation and peatland conversion, the country went through a period of denial. That eventually changed to hope for economic compensation for not deforesting, when the international community established a scheme in 2007 called ‘reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus conservation’ (REDD+), which would pay for halting deforestation. The hope swiftly became hype then widespread disappointment when it became clear that sorting out the complex web of issues that drove deforestation wasn’t going to be as easy as just throwing money at it. REDD+ in Indonesia and internationally is now lingering on the point of death.

Lucerna, women, role-play game

Village women playing a land-use game. Illustration: World Agroforestry Centre/A. Lucerna

While we’re not yet writing the post-mortem for REDD+, a reincarnation of it is nevertheless needed. We see that such international payment mechanisms can play a useful role as part of a broader approach that covers all the activities that take place in a given landscape, rather than just focussing on forests. This type of approach falls under the scope of another mechanism also set up in 2007 at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s meeting in Bali, which was given the umbrella title of ‘nationally appropriate mitigation actions’ or NAMA.

NAMA is a set of preferably integrated actions initiated by a country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and hence mitigate the effects of climate change. In the complex biophysical and social world of Indonesia, with its 250 million people speaking more than 300 languages spread across 17 000 islands harbouring global biodiversity hotspots and numerous agro-ecological zones, ‘nationally appropriate’ is probably more clearly articulated as a compilation of ‘locally appropriate adaptation and mitigation actions’ or LAAMA.

In this environment, any attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land uses must first deal with the many conflicts over land rights and also set out to improve government planning for landscape use. These types of actions really don’t require a large additional budget. Any expenditure at all that improves the situation will probably reduce societal costs in the medium term and is a valid part of NAMA design. NAMA, unlike REDD+, has the potential to reach deeper into the motivational domain of national self-articulation, pride and sovereignty and provide a stronger, unified base for stopping deforestation and building a ‘green’ economy. But to be successful, the national process must become LAAMA in the first instance and be carefully created in each village and district centre to meet their own set of unique local conditions rather than assuming that what is ‘nationally appropriate’ can be directly scaled down to local levels under a ‘one size fits all’ policy.

Indonesia has been paying attention to this, building on the lessons learned in the REDD+ process. Recently, in collaboration with the governments of Denmark, Germany and the European Union, and the World Agroforestry Centre and partners, Indonesia has begun testing a holistic way to plan for activities in local landscapes. The method, called Land-Use Planning for Low-Emissions Development Strategies or LUWES, uses participatory techniques to bring together farmers, district government agencies, non-governmental organizations and businesses in a landscape to identify and measure their joint emissions and design ways to reduce them. LUWES is being promoted by the National Planning and Development Board (known as Bappenas) at district level as the method of choice across the nation in an effort to meet the 41% reduction in emissions that has been promised by the president (26% by the country’s own means and an additional 15% with international support). LUWES is already demonstrating that it can adapt to local conditions and overcome a range of obstacles to reach agreement between people with formerly conflicting interests in a landscape.

The strength of LUWES is its inclusiveness and attention to the impact of local details. For example, one aspect of LUWES that is proving to be very effective is scenario-simulation games in villages. These role-plays help farmers, government officers and researchers better understand how decisions made in the social context of a village meeting, for example, might differ from those made in individual households, and what impact these different decisions will have on the landscape managed by the decision makers. The games also bring out the different priorities of men and women, which similarly have an impact on how land is used. And whether more or less greenhouse gas is emitted. Along with focus-group discussions and other activities, the games have become forms of ‘negotiation support’, which help empower farmers and other village residents to become informed actors who can freely withhold, or provide, consent to externally proposed interventions.

NAMA in Indonesia have also created the opportunity to address three issues that REDD+ alone could not: 1) the multiplicity of players involved in the interface between forests and agriculture; 2) the absence of a globally agreed definition of ‘forest’ in a nation with two-thirds of its land under the mandate of the Ministry of Forestry; and 3) the importance of emissions from peatland, which requires a landscape approach involving both forest and non-forest peatlands that are hydrologically linked.

Two other issues that were also discussed at the meeting in 2007—the design of efficient and fair ways of distributing benefits from REDD+ and the contested rights to forests, land use and land-use decisions—are as complex for NAMA as they are for REDD+. Yet, progress has been made in Indonesia by seeing REDD+ as part of the national commitment to achieve emission reduction.

Six years ago, REDD+ was an attractive ‘theory of change’ but lessons learnt subsequently suggest that this theory itself requires change. Indonesia is well on the way to doing that.


Edited by Robert Finlayson


Read the policy brief

Van Noordwijk M, Agus F, Dewi S, Purnomo H, Lusiana B, Villamor GB. 2013. Reducing emissions from all land uses in Indonesia: motivation, expected funding streams and multi-scale policy instruments. ASB Policybrief 34. Nairobi: ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins.


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This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry


Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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