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Friends of the Earth Australia has called on the Australian government to initiate an open review of its failed experiment in climate aid in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, citing a lack of transparency and a lack of effective engagement with issues surrounding customary forest rights as key failings of the government’s approach.

In an open letter supported by Indonesian partners WALHI / Friends of the Earth Indonesia, Yayasan Petak Danum Kalimantan Tengah (Land and Water Foundation Central Kalimantan) and Friends of the Earth International, Friends of the Earth Australia has called on AusAID and the Australian government to break its silence on the controversial program.

The Kalimantan Forest Carbon Partnership (KFCP) was originally slated to protect 70,000 hectares of peat forests, re-flood 200,000 hectares of dried peatlands and plant of 100 million trees, projected to lead to 700 million tonnes of greenhouse gas reductions over 30 years. It was championed by both Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd as an important test case for initiating climate action through the UN’s Reduced Emmissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) program. The KFCP was quietly shelved on June 30 this year, having failed to achieve any of these targets, and having caused sustained conflict among local communities who were supposed be at the heart of the project’s efforts.

‘With such ambitious targets announced by successive Coalition and Labor governments, the Australian government should now front up to the public in an open and honest way, and conduct a thorough review of the KFCP’ said Nick McClean, Climate Justice Coordinator with Friends of the Earth Australia.

‘Walking away from a $47 million dollar investment without accounting for how the money was spent and what the outcomes are is unacceptable in any situation. But with a major increase in Australian foreign aid on the cards, and lasting change in the forested lands of the developing world a crucial part of climate action, learning the lessons from this REDD trial is crucial for any future conservation efforts. A reported gag on project staff and the continued protests from a number of customary landholders in this case are particularly alarming aspects of the project. It begs the question as to what really happened in the KFCP’

Isaac Rojas from Friends of the Earth International echoed these concerns:
‘REDD has so far been problematic in many parts of the world, and the unwillingness of REDD partners to help secure the rights of customary landholders is proving a key problem with this approach. Getting to the bottom of why these problems keep occurring will help in developing partnerships with local communities that can lead to effective conservation programs,’ he said.

Deddy Ratih, Bioregion and Climate Campaigner with WALHI / Friends of the Earth Indonesia said: ‘Throughout Indonesia, local communities have an intimate knowledge of their forests and a willingness to engage that can be a major asset in halting deforestation and managing forests sustainably. But if the international community are unwilling to support these communities in securing their rights to land ownership as the basis of a positive collaboration, it’s hard to see how conservation schemes like REDD will be successful in the long run. Simply paying communities to stay out of their forests so foreign polluters can offset their emissions won’t work. Supporting the recognition of the active custodial relationships with traditional lands these communities maintain an important part of the long term solution to deforestation’ he said.

Currently between 50 and 80 million people live in Indonesia’s forested areas, many of whom are customary land holders who receive little recognition of their rights from the Indonesian government. While a recent constitutional court case established the validity of these land rights in the Indonesian constitution, the Indonesian government is yet to act on this development and legislate for widespread recognition of these rights.

Nick McClean from Friends of the Earth Australia said : ‘Customary landholders deserve a better deal than what they are currently getting, being the unfortunate victims of the widespread landgrabbing and deforestation that occurs in Indonesian Borneo. Supporting recognition of their rights is a way of countering these destructive industries and investing long term in the conservation estate. We hope that a review of this project will contribute to mapping out a positive path forward on this challenging issue.’

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