Smoke from forest fires shrouds the slopes of Mount Kerinci in Kerinci Seblat National Park, in Sumatra’s Jambi province. (Antara Photo/Wahdi Septiawan)

UN Report Makes Economic Case for Conservation of Indonesia’s Forests

JULY 09, 2015

Jakarta. The United Nations Office for REDD+ Coordination in Indonesia, or UNORCID, published a new study on the value of Indonesia’s forests this week, advocating that greater conservation was crucial to Indonesia’s economic success.

The report, “Forest Ecosystem Valuation Study,” was formally presented at a press conference on Wednesday to Nur Masripatin, director general for climate change control, on behalf of the minister of the environment and forestry.

Pavan Sukhdev, a UN Environmental Program goodwill ambassador who led the study, described the report as a “snapshot” of Indonesia’s forests.

“The report itself is not the goal of our work. The report documents what we have done to understand the value of ecosystem services across five provinces in Indonesia,” he said.

It also serves as an attempt to bring quantitative economic analysis to a subject that often puts its stock in the ideals of environmentalism rather than hard numbers.

“In addition to their ecological, cultural and spiritual value, forests play a critical role in sustaining national economies and supporting livelihoods through the ecosystem services and employment opportunities they provide,” said Achim Steiner, a UN under-secretary-general and executive director of the UNEP.

Compiled from a number of pre-existing papers as well as original research, the report focuses on the contribution of Indonesia’s forests to three areas: poverty alleviation, food security, and the transition to the green economy.

UNORCID estimates that 1.5 percent of Indonesia’s GDP comes directly from its forests, but emphasizes that the true value is even greater.

The report found that Indonesia’s rural poor, a group that has been stubbornly cut off from the nation’s average GDP growth of more than 5 percent over the last 15 years, remain highly dependent on forest ecosystems. Almost 80 percent of the incomes for the rural poor can be attributed directly to forest services, according to the study.

The logic of conservation, the report claims, is tied to economic growth as much as environmental values.

But not all were convinced. An audience member at Wednesday’s press conference disputed whether the conservation of Indonesia’s forests was as beneficial to Indonesia as it was to the rest of the world.

“We’ll help the world – if it also helps us,” he argued.

Sukhdev responded that his “objective is to change our understanding of what constitutes development.”

“To me, a reduction in income in the hands of farmers because the forest level has gone down and the fresh water level has gone down is not development,” he said.

The importance of the economic power of Indonesia’s forest resources was echoed by Nur of the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

“It is our hope that the results of this study will help Indonesia to achieve its green goals, through REDD+ implementation, by increasing awareness among politicians, at the national and subnational level,” she said.

But it will take more than awareness for Indonesia to maintain its forests. The report estimates that $600 million is needed to preserve the more than 160 million hectares of forest cover.

Satya Tripathi, the director of UNORCID, argued that it was well worth the cost.

“The cost of depleting the country’s natural resources has not only damaged the long-term prospects of economic growth, but the economic growth that Indonesia has now is at serious risk until we all work together,” he said.