Australia shuts down the Kalimantan Forest Carbon Partnership: “A lot of funds spent and very little progress”

Australia shuts down the Kalimantan Forest Carbon Partnership: “A lot of funds spent and very little progress”
By Chris Lang, 4th July 2013

Australia has quietly shelved its Kalimantan Forest Carbon Partnership project. The US$43 million project will be closed before most of the project’s targets have been met.

The project was launched in September 2007, by then-foreign minister Alexander Downer and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The project was supposed to protect 70,000 hectares of peat forest, re-flood 200,000 hectares of peat land, and plant 100 million trees. Even on its own terms the project has been a failure. A 2012 report on the project by Erik Olbrei and Stephen Howes, two academics at the Australian National University, found that only 50,000 trees had been planted and none of the peat had been re-flooded. The project objectives had been “quietly but drastically scaled back”.

In an interview with ABC’s The World Today, Patrick Anderson of Forest Peoples Programme explains that he’s visited the KFCP project area several times and “there isn’t broad community support for the project”. He sums up the project: “A lot of funds spent and very little progress”.

The KFCP project was part of the Indonesia–Australia Forest Carbon Partnership (IAFCP), which was launched in June 2008. A second project under the IAFCP, the Sumatra Forest Carbon Partnership, was dropped after a March 2011 independent review. No on-the-ground project work took place in Sumatra.

In a press release, Deddy Ratih, of WALHI (Indonesian Friends of the Earth), is critical of the KFCP project,

“AusAID and the KFCP staff have failed to support conservation programs that are environmentally effective and sensitive to the rights of indigenous people in rural Indonesia.

“The KFCP is a missed opportunity to empower local communities to develop their sustainable livelihood practices and address the drivers of land conversion in Kalimantan.

“A key aspect of deforestation and land degradation is the lack of formal rights held by indigenous and rural people in Indonesia. The KFCP did nothing to assist local communities to assert their customary rights and develop capacity for sustainable land management.

“Over five years the project has produced no significant environmental outcomes, it created conflict in local communities and confusion about the status of their land.”

Rebecca Pearse, spokesperson for Friends of the Earth Australia, also highlights the project’s failure to deal with land tenure issues in the project area. Writing in New Matilda she points out that,

The KFCP exacerbated conflicts about the status of land. Community concerns about the ways the project was implemented have been in circulation for some time. Yayasan Petak Danum (YPD), a Kalimantan indigenous organisation stated in 2011 that the project did not meaningfully engage the community. They expressed no confidence in project staff.

Pearse notes that the KFCP project and the IAFCP are run by a consultancy firm called Aurecon. On its website, Aurecon gives no hint of the complexities of implementing the KFCP project, and instead boasts that,

As managing contractors, Aurecon undertakes all administrative, logistical, financial and procurement services including designing, implementing, managing and reporting on high quality REDD+ demonstration and accounting activities.

The facility has so far executed more than 140 sub-contracts, conducted extensive socialisation of REDD+ within targeted communities, signed seven village agreements, trialled work packages within villages and developed a clear strategy for the development and implementation of a series of income generating activities.

Indeed, IAFCP was very reluctant to acknowledge the difficulties that the KFCP project ran into. In January 2013, Caity Peterson, a visiting researcher and science writer based at the Center for International Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia, wrote an article for Thomson Reuters Foundation based on a presentation by IAFCP at a side event during COP18 in Doha. She explains that “the IAFCP has given us a life-size demonstration of how a REDD+ carbon scheme might work.” She concludes with this “take home message”:

The take-home message? That carbon programmes can work if they take careful steps to ensure the livelihood security of their participants. The hope? That other priority REDD+ programmes can learn from the KFCP example, and that the lessons from the partnership will serve as a “how-to” guide for forest carbon efforts around the world.

On 25 June 2013, IAFCP posted a short note on its website explaining that,

KFCP will not extend in its current form, but both governments are discussing which parts might benefit from additional work in the next 12 months to maximise outcomes.

Large-scale blocking of drainage canals will no longer be carried out. However, the methods and plans for blocking canals that were designed under KFCP are valuable.

In fact the project was shelved, “without having had sufficient time and opportunity to demonstrate how to block even a single canal”, as CIFOR’s Daniel Murdiyarso and Luca Tacconi, a professor at the Australian National University, point out, in an article in The Malaysian Insider.

This is despite the fact that the engineering plans had passed all the regulatory approval steps (including the environmental impact assessment and extensive community consultation processes), the tenders for the work had been issued, and the relevant Indonesian ministries had asked AusAID to continue the project.

Murdiyarso and Tacconi write that,

This premature termination of KFCP, prompted by political opposition to the project by some Australian politicians, means that the basic field research necessary to reduce future haze events is likely to be lost. It also means that Indonesian policy makers, land managers and peatland communities are left without practical strategies for rehabilitating cleared peatlands.

Stephen Howes, co-author with Erik Olbrei of the 2012 report about the KFCP project, is critical of the way the decision to shelve the project has been announced. AusAID gives no reasons for closing down the project other than that June 2013 was its planned closing date. Howes points out that many aid projects are extended and that it was obvious that KFCP was behind schedule.

In an article for, Howes’ final paragraph is as follows,

Last year I co-authored a critical review of KFCP with Erik Olbrei. We concluded that “there was no point continuing along current lines” and that KFCP should be either abandoned or radically re-shaped. Clearly, the former has been the option chosen. Whether the correct decision or not, the failure to provide any reason for the effective closure of KFCP carries on a tradition of a lack of transparency which, as we argued in our review, has plagued the project since its inception.

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