With our planet facing the highest carbon emission levels in human history, with smoking fires from Sumatra choking more than five million people in neighboring Singapore, experts from around the world gathered in Indonesia to see how REDD+ is being used to help move economic development from a path of resource exploitation to one of environmental sustainability and human betterment.

“Our paradigm of growth has been based on the overexploitation of resources,” explained Mr. Marcellus Rantetana, Senior Assistant to the Presidential Special Envoy for Poverty Alleviation in Indonesia, speaking at the Global Symposium on REDD+ in a Green Economy, held in Jakarta, 19-21 June 2013. 

“It has followed a rule of economic growth dictating maximized profit at all costs – some call it the ‘greedy economy,’” he added.

Countries such as Indonesia and others across Asia, Africa, and Latin America are creating a new development paradigm. They are integrating REDD+ and green growth into their national development plans, connecting better natural resource management with poverty reduction, improving governance, and shaping policies to better balance conservation and economic growth.  

The Government of Indonesia is at the forefront of using REDD+ to catalyze change and avoid falling off the cliff of unsustainable growth.  Its development agenda is designed to be not only pro-growth but also pro-poor, pro-jobs, and pro-environment. It has used the REDD+ framework to stimulate broader stakeholder engagement, policy alignments, and new strategies to ‘green’ the development agenda from the national to local levels.

“Indonesia has used REDD+ not only as a vehicle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also as a modality to support social equity, along with environmental and economic sustainable, while prompting economic growth and opportunity,” said

HE Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, Head of the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4) and Chair of the National REDD+ Task Force, Indonesia.

Professor Bambang Brodjonegoro, Chairman of the Indonesian Ministry of Finance’s Fiscal Policy Agency, outlined how fiscal policies can be used to reposition the country toward a green economy. He noted the value of excise taxes on measurable pollutants, tax breaks or subsidies for clean energy alternatives, and moves to eliminate national fuel subsidies that encourage consumption rather than conservation and clean alternatives. And he pointed out ways to fund forest conservation and management as part of pro-development initiatives, including those to promote greater energy independence and security.

However, the challenge of measuring the dividends of green economy investments was mentioned by many symposium participants. Measures of gross domestic product (GDP) do not capture social and green growth indicators. Nor do they indicate who owns the growth or account for the high social, economic, and environmental costs of the depletion and degradation of natural resources.

“The trade-offs and synergies from competing land uses need to be understood, so that we can identify which investments will have the most development impacts – which interventions will best reduce risk, increase security, and improve lives,” said Dr. Ravi Prabhu, Deputy Director General-Research at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).

“By applying information economics and looking at land use alternatives from a landscape perspective, we can obtain high-value information on the indicators we need – not just those that exist already,” he added.

REDD+ planning has brought the application of a landscape approach to the forefront as a way of both stimulating new thinking and bringing competing stakeholders around the table to consider land use tradeoffs from a more complete and informed perspective.

With improved human wellbeing as the target of both REDD+ and green economy objectives, presenters also noted that it is measures of factors such as decent jobs and income, improved social equity, access to functioning health care, and quality education that are the important metrics.

Addressing poverty and reducing wide income gaps also were underscored as critical measures of progress from leveraging REDD+ toward a green economy. Poor people who depend on forests are among the major contributors to deforestation and forest degradation to meet their basic needs for food, fuel, timber, and other resources.

“If we don’t tackle poverty, the green economy will be an illusion,” said Mr. Rantetana, pointing out that in Indonesia, 50% of the population lives on less than $2/day, and 90% survive on less than $5/day.

Further discussions highlighted that even small investments in social sectors can yield measurable increases in the yield and productivity of smallholder farms, putting more income in the hands of the poor and less pressure on forest lands and resources. REDD+ pilot programs are working actively with indigenous groups and other forest communities to combine higher income generation with sustainable agroforestry and forest management strategies.

The enormous potential of REDD+ to catalyze the political will, new models, research advances, and resources needed for transformative shifts to a green economy was readily evident throughout the symposium. It was clear that Indonesia and other developing countries are leading the charge to integrate REDD+ in a green economy that is low in carbon emissions, resource efficient, protects ecosystems, and improves lives not only for immediate rewards but also for the long term benefit of our planet.

Bio: Valerie Gwinner is a freelance writer working with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), which co-sponsored the Global Symposium on REDD+ in a Green Economy with the UN-REDD Programme and other partners. She was formerly Head of Communications at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru and Altarum Institute in Washington DC. She has been a Senior Policy Analyst and Project Director at the US Office on Women’s Health and Georgetown University, and consultant to CGIAR, US National Institutes of Health, UN Statistical Office, Rockefeller Foundation, and other organizations.