The $100 million dollar scheme was launched in 2007, but nearly five years on, less than a third of that amount has been committed and the projects targets have been drastically reduced.
Correspondent: Katie Hamann
Speakers: Professor Stephen Howes, director, Development Policy Centre, Australian National University, co-author of report assessing the KFCP’s progress; Louis Verchot, principal Climate Change scientist, Centre for International Forestry Research or CIFOR
HAMANN: In 2007, Australia’s then foreign minister Alexander Downer inaugurated AusAIDS Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership, a project that would, in his words, make “a very real and very practical contribution to improving our environment” yielding “immediate and tangible results.”
The plan was to raise $100 million dollars, to enable the planting of 100 million trees and rehabilitation of 200,000 hectares of peatland on the Indonesian island of Kalimantan.
The protection of peat areas is considered vital to curbing carbon emissions because they act as vast carbon sinks. The ambitious scheme was part of a wider experimental program known as Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Forest Degradation or REDD – pilot projects for which are currently underway across the globe.
Professor Stephen Howes is the Director of the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University and the co-author of a report assessing the progress of KFCP.
HOWES: It was an extremely a high-profile announcement, it was made in a hurry, it was made because the issue of climate change had become live political issue in Australia. So there was pressure to make an announcement.
HAMANN: Almost five years on and approaching its original deadline, the AusAID project is struggling to gain traction.
Only 50,000 seedlings have been planted and the reflooding of peatlands has yet to start. Professor Howes research is critical of AusAID’s failure to publically declare that the project’s targets had been significantly revised downwards.
Of the proposed 100 million dollar commitment, only Australia’s 30 million dollar contribution has been realised. And AusAID now expects to reflood just 25,000 hectares of peatland. Professor Howes blames the initial enthusiasm on, what he terms an ‘announcement culture’ within AusAID.
HOWES: And by that, we mean it’s really a culture or environment, in which it’s the initial announcement which is made at the ministerial level, that gets all the attention. And after that, the importance and attention given to the project becomes much less. Of course, it’s only one project, but it’s an important project, and if we’re going to have a more effective aid program, there will need to be a shift, in emphasis away from the initial announcement, towards following through what actually happens with the project and what results it delivers.
HAMANN: AusAID is not alone in facing challenges with its version of REDD.
Louis Verchot is the Principal Climate Change Scientist with the Centre for International Forestry Research or CIFOR … an organisation which monitors REDD projects around the globe.
VERCHOT: The situation in tropical forestry doesn’t change very quickly. There are alot of entrenched interests, there are alot of problems dealing with the remote areas, where the forests are. Governance issues are a problem, resources for government officers or for communities to manage a forest are awful. So there’s a whole host of problems out there, and a whole host of interests and there’ll need to be a major shift. What we’re asking for in tropical forestry right now, is a tectonic shift in the way we manage our forests and treat our forests in these regions.
HAMANN: In a statement to Radio Australia AusAID says an agreement with seven villages located within the KFCP site had finally been made, clearing a path for the reflooding of peatlands … and 1.4 million seedlings are being raised for future planting. The agency acknowledged that progress has been slow but said it was in line with similar efforts elsewhere.
The project has also been extended by at least one year.
Lou Verchot says the challenges of implementating REDD are enormous and without a genuine commitment from the international community there can be no real progress in countries where forests continue to be felled at an alarming rate.
VERCHOT: Most of the projects are in go-slow mode because the finances are not certain. You don’t want to undertake a process to raise hopes in communities that the finance is going to be there, that we’re going to change the way we manage these forests. If you’re not sure that it’s going to come behind with sustainable funding to make that a reality.