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Indonesia Debates Benefits, Risks of Carbon-Trading Plans


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Palm oil plantations spanning tens of thousands of hectares have changed the landscape of Indonesia, a country that suffers from one of the world's highest deforestation rates thanks to illegal logging, forest fires and land conversion. Deforestation's contribution to global carbon emissions is at the heart of debates on cutting global warming.

Greenhouse gases released by cutting down forests make Indonesia one of world's top emitters. In December, when the world gathers for climate change talks in Copenhagen, much of the debate will focus on a plan to cut forest-related emissions, called REDD - Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation.

Frances Seymour, director general of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, on Wednesday in Jakarta spoke about the possible benefits of REDD.

"If negotiations are successful in Copenhagen there will be a global mechanism to channel finance from developed countries to forest countries, such as Indonesia, to compensate for the opportunity cost of protecting those forests from other uses," said Seymour.

Basically, under REDD, polluting industries could buy carbon credits -paying some other business or country to cut its emissions. That means businesses and landowners could get paid to maintain rainforests. It also would protect peat land, which when cleared gives off more emissions than any other type of land.

Abdon Nababan runs an Indonesian organization that helps indigenous people manage their natural resources. He says a key to making REDD work is improving the rights of indigenous communities.

"You have to invest first in rights, you have to invest in first in local livelihoods if you want to succeed in climate change in Indonesia," said Abdon.

Greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide and methane, come from burning fossil fuels, clearing forests and livestock production. Many climate scientists think the gases contribute to global warming.

Indonesia has shown its willingness to find a global solution to climate change, with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledging to cut emissions from the forestry sector 26 percent by 2020.

Although it is not clear there will be a climate change agreement in Copenhagen, some companies have already begun investing in conservation projects in the hope that if REDD goes through they can profit by trading carbon credits.

But some environmentalists see REDD as too much of a business project, and are not optimistic that the plan will do much to save Indonesia's forests.