Remember the 1965 Beatles song "Norwegian Wood"? It's about a girl whose house was decorated with cheap pine from Norway. Calling the song "Cheap Pine" wouldn't have been very romantic, but Norwegian Wood has an expensive and, well, "woody" feel to it. She leads her suitor on, only to say, "no, no, no", making him sleep in the bath. When he wakes up, the "bird had flown". He's pissed off, so he burns her house down!
Now, it seems that Norway has money to burn. Indonesia, in turn, has forests to burn, so the two have, to quote another Beatles song, "Come Together". Yep, Norway has promised Indonesia US$1 billion as part of their REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) program to stop us issuing new timber concessions. It's one of the biggest pledges any country has ever made to Indonesia.
Sure, it's a neighborly thing for Norway to do (what's 11,000 kilometers these days?), but it's also not a bad way to assuage environmental guilt. After all, that US$1 billion comes mainly from carbon dioxide emissions produced by burning Norwegian North Sea oil.
Ah well, we mustn't be picky. Norway's intentions are good, and it's a reminder that Indonesia has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, and is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, producing 80 percent of it from deforestation. Something obviously has to be done before Indonesia becomes a smoking, tree-free wasteland.
The REDD plan looks just jim-dandy in theory: rich nations give money to developing countries that reduce CO2 emissions from deforestation. Simple huh?
Now add on REDD+, which has extras including conservation, sustainable forest management, addressing rural poverty and conserving - even enhancing - biodiversity.
It's all good stuff, but how to make it work? We don't want the Norwegian wood plan to become yet another case of the road to development assistance hell being paved with good intentions and lots of top-down planning.
Norway's strength is money. Its weakness is its inability to interfere in Indonesian domestic affairs, even if it wanted to (which it doesn't). You see, Indonesia's become pretty good at receiving handouts, despite the fact that aid hasn't helped much with poverty alleviation, or corruption alleviation for that matter. In fact, under Suharto, aid helped to prop up a corrupt regime.
This is because Indonesia's weakness is our power elite. They will take the money and still defend their logging, business, timber processing and land conversion interests to the death. Yes, REDD+ will rock the boat a bit, but the scent of Norway's money will be like a whiff of blood to our vampire elite.
REDD+ also requires President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) to "forge alliances with new partners to fight established forest interests". One can only assume that no one in Oslo looked at SBY's track record in forging alliances when they put that bit in. After all, he's the man who sacrificed Sri Mulyani, the star performer in his Cabinet, and embraced the party that was preparing to impeach him!
Did no one tell the Norwegians that money talks in Indonesia? In fact, it gives speeches. It can buy you a political party, and a position so close to the President that anything you whisper in his ear will come out of his mouth soon afterward.
And what about the Forestry Ministry, which is a bit like a mafia already? Let's be charitable, and assume that money and power can be effectively reallocated from Jakarta to local governments in Kalimantan, Papua and other deforested places. Then what? How can anyone be sure what will happen when the money hits the local level? In many instances, decentralization simply means decentralization of corruption.
Even if that is avoided, it is unlikely the money will be used effectively, because it probably won't reach the people who really know how to help save our forests: the people who live in them.
Research shows that customary laws are more effective than government policies in protecting the environment. This is why Avatar, the James Cameron film with the "blue monkeys" should be compulsory viewing for REDD+ officials. In Avatar, the Na'vi, an alien tribe on the distant planet Pandora, respect the environment because it is integral to their spiritual beliefs.
In Indonesia, we have our own "Na'vi": the Baduy in Banten, Kampun Kuta in Ciamis and the Dayak in Kalimantan, among others. These tribes aren't blue, but they too have traditional laws and spiritual beliefs about protecting the environment, and for centuries they successfully preserved our forests.
But now, the best our government can do seems to be the song SBY sang in Oslo. No, not, "Money (that's What I Want)", but "Unite the world for our Earth, let's do it, let us hold hands to look after it. Lift your hands and pray to God for the safety of our children and grandchildren". Well, you lift your hands and pray all you want, mister, but that ain't gonna cut it!
The fact is that hope and money don't solve everything. Sukarno said, "to hell with your aid", but Ivan Illich said "to hell with your good intentions". What we need is real, practical support for the people who live in the forests and know the most about them, our own local Na'vi.
And if that doesn't happen then let's just hope that REDD+ doesn't end up going up in smoke, because what's left of Indonesia's forests probably will!
The Norwegian Wood Blues