One Nation, Many Maps in Endless REDD Fumbling

By Harry Pearl on 07:30 am Jun 16, 2014

An excavator clears forest in Indonesia's South Sumatra province in this October 16, 2010 file photo. Deforestation rates are calculated by comparing forest areas on maps over different years. But there are multiple maps used by different government bodies. (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)

Jakarta. Development of a centralized forestry map for Indonesia is barely progressing as conflicting land claims and usage data cause problems between communities and businesses, stalling the country’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Disparate maps used by different ministries and levels of government have made data on forest cover unreliable in a country where more than two thirds of land is purportedly forested.

The discrepancies have led to scores of overlapping land claims and made progress all but impossible for agencies working towards Indonesia’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) commitments.

Last month, the issue took center stage at the Forests Asia Summit where experts said Indonesia’s One Map initiative was integral to meeting its environmental goals.

In 2009, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged to cut emissions between 26 and 41 percent by 2020.

But that’s looking like a pipe dream in a nation which five years later still has one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation.

While work towards a definitive geospatial map – dubbed One Map – was first legislated for in 2011, development has been slow.

According to Ariana Alisjahbana, an Indonesian research analyst at the World Resources Institute, this makes the implementation of REDD+ goals difficult.

“REDD+ and other mechanisms similar to it are based on payments for performance – if a particular project can achieve a reduction in its deforestation rate, then it is entitled to payments.”

Deforestation rates are calculated by comparing forest areas on maps over different years. But there are multiple maps used by different government bodies.

Kubo Hideyuki, head of the thematic advisory unit at the United Nations Office for REDD+ Coordination in Indonesia, or UNORCID, which provides technical support to the Indonesian government on mapping, said there were two primary forest maps.

One was used by the Ministry of Forestry and the other by the Indonesian National Carbon Accounting System, INCAS.

However, neither matches up exactly – meaning calculating rates of deforestation isn’t quite the science it should be.

Furthermore, data on land licenses is not synchronized across ministries – fueling conflict between indigenous people and businesses which often gain permits through bribing local governments.

“There are cases of overlapping among these claims,” Hideyuki said. “For example, certain areas appear on both oil palm plantation maps and indigenous land maps.”

Nirarta Samadhi, deputy head of the president’s development monitoring and oversight unit, or UKP4, admitted conflicting data had been a source of trouble.

“There is no instant panacea for this problem, we just have to try and resolve each and every one of them,” he said. “With one reference map, at least we have a clear authoritative map to work from.”

Nirarta said progress was being made on Indonesia’s One Map initiative.

An operational map, which will be the reference for all sectors issuing spatial information in the future, had been produced at a scale of 1:50,000 for most of Indonesia, he said.

Steps towards a centralized database of land licenses were moving ahead, too.

“We are now at a stage where all information from different sectors is being harmonized,” Nirarta said.

“To get to that stage we have to agree on [the] same definitions, standard operating procedures – one common language.”