Indonesia’s Climate Experiment
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Indonesia’s Climate Experiment

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Apart from the large ship washed kilometres inland that still towers over single-story homes, little evidence remains in the north Sumatran city of Banda Aceh of the devastation wrought by the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, which claimed more than 230,000 lives.

It’s also hard to find traces of the bitter 30-year conflict between the separatist Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian state that ended the following year there. Except, maybe, for one thing—an uptick in deforestation.

During decades of strife, Aceh’s forests were virtually no-go areas, meaning the province was spared much of the rampant deforestation that other parts of the country witnessed. But demand for timber soared during the post-tsunami reconstruction and many former combatants—demobilised and with few prospects—turned to illegal logging.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that deforestation is responsible for 17 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions each year, and massive deforestation has helped make Indonesia one of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters.

Concerned by such figures, Aceh’s then new governor, Irwandi Yusuf, took the initiative at the 2007 UN climate summit in Bali to push for the inclusion of a mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, or REDD, in post-2012 climate planning.

The basic concept of a REDD carbon market is simple: a project in a given locality reduces deforestation and forest degradation and thereby reduces greenhouse gas emissions. These foregone emissions are then certified and a second locality can buy the resulting carbon credits and count them against its own emissions in order to help meet its reduction targets.

And now it’s in Aceh that the world’s first commercial REDD-style project is under way. Brokered by the Carbon Conservation firm, the idea is that Aceh’s government will sell credits from avoided deforestation, with Bank of America Merrill Lynch having first refusal on many of the expected credits.

The success of the scheme, managed by the NGO Flora and Fauna International, or FFI, depends on successfully preventing deforestation, which in turn rests on turning ex-combatants, loggers and poachers into what FFI project manager Matthew Linkie calls ‘guardians of the forest.’

An integral part of this process is ten days of intensive training, which culminate in a ‘graduation’ ceremony for new rangers designed to underscore their new position of responsibility.

‘At midnight they go into a river with flaming torches and you have the master trainer waiting for them in the river in his outfit,’ Linkie says. ‘They line up and the master trainer dunks them in the water, after which they put on their ranger uniforms.’

Linkie says it’s a moving experience for those involved. ‘They all cry,’ he adds.

The community rangers then go on to work with patrol elephants and cooperate with local NGOs as well as with the government’s own forest rangers. So far, Linkie says, no community ranger has returned to forest-related crime, while at least 145 illegal loggers have been arrested so far.

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