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Researchers warn delays thwart efforts to save Indonesia's environment

Date

Tom Arup

Destroyed ... Kalimantan peat swamp.

Destroyed ... Kalimantan peat swamp.

A $47 million Australian government project to restore Indonesian forests and peatland to protect large carbon stores has been quietly scaled back and is failing to meet even its modest revised goals, new research has found.

The findings follow an investigation by ANU academics Erik Olbrei and Stephen Howes into the progress of the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnerships project, launched in 2007 by the Howard government and since continued under Labor.

The project had originally aimed to re-flood 200,000 hectares of dried peatland, protect 70,000 hectares of peat forests, and plant 100 million trees in Central Kalimantan.

But in a new paper, the researchers say advice they received from AusAid officials in February suggests that now just over 10 per cent - or 25,000 hectares - of the original 200,000 hectares of peatland is expected to be re-flooded.

The authors also say to date only 50,000 trees have been replanted, well short of the 100 million target first touted.

There has also been little progress on removing large canals to drive the peatland re-flooding, due to delays around local environment permits.

Professor Howes and Mr Olbrei said delays in implementing many elements of the project would mean ''in our judgment, it is unlikely that the project, even in its scaled-back form, will be complete by July 2013''.

The Kalimantan project is part of a $273 million government program to develop global action on reducing deforestation and developing a forest carbon offset market.

The researchers said the slow progress of such projects compared with the rapid rate of deforestation and peatland destruction in Indonesia, meant current approaches were not working. They recommended that if Australia decided to remain in the project it should be more ambitious, supported by high-level policy dialogue and larger public funds.

A spokesman for the Department of Climate Change said they were working with the Indonesian government to deliver on the objectives of the Kalimantan project in as short a time as possible, but did not have any plans to increase funding.

''As an innovative project, the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnerships is trialling new approaches.

''There have been challenges during the project so far; we are using those to learn and improve our approaches,'' the spokesman said.

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