8 March 2023

Charting a path toward strong blue carbon governance

Screenshot from Jakarta Post, featuring the opinions of Mas Achmad Santosa and Karenina Lasrindy.

Author: Mas Achmad Santosa and Karenina Lasrindy

Under Indonesia’s leadership, the Group of 20 meetings in Bali last year resulted in the adoption of the G20 Bali Leader’s Declaration. Article 15 of the declaration affirms the leaders’ commitment to “step up efforts” in halting and reversing biodiversity loss, including through nature-based solutions and ecosystembased approaches, and also acknowledged mangrove and seagrass roles in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Mangrove and seagrass, known to be blue carbon ecosystems (BCEs) also provide invaluable benefits to coastal protection, marine biodiversity and livelihood to coastal communities. Inclusion of BCEs in the declaration was foreseeable as the “mangrove diplomacy” was a landmark of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who took G20 leaders to Ngurah Rai Forest Park (1,300 hectares) to plant mangrove seedlings. This strategy signaled strong commitments to protect the ecosystem, and hoped to inspire other G20 countries where mangrove is prevalent.

Altogether, five G20 countries (Indonesia, Brazil, Australia, India and Mexico) account for 49 percent of mangroves globally, with Indonesia making up one fifth (3.3 million ha). Article 15 of the Bali Declaration should be reinforced in further concrete partnerships and actions under India’s G20 current leadership.

In the period of 2009-2019, Indonesia estimated to have lost 18,209 ha of mangroves each year (Arifianti et al., 2021). The highest mangrove deforestation was found mainly in non-forest areas (APLs) or 48.6 percent of total mangrove deforestation, followed by that in production forest (27 percent), protection forests (17 percent) and conservation forest (8 percent) (Arifianti et al., 2021).

There is a silver lining to scale up protection as the pace of global mangrove deforestation is actually slowing considerably (Global Mangrove Alliance, 2022) and the recent data also shows an increase in mangrove expansion in Indonesia since 2019 (National Mangrove Map in 2021).

However, 21 percent of mangroves are still located in APLs (702.798 ha) and 30 percent in production forests (1.001.614 ha). This alarming data calls for urgent policy options to improve protection in APLs and production forest.

The role of mangrove-dependent communities must be strengthened in APLs to support their economic livelihood, where governments and other factors should consistently provide facilitation and foster them as part of the protecting ecosystem. It is important to have a certain stipulation that obligates production forest managers to carry out strong protection measures for mangroves.

It is interesting to reflect on Indonesia’s blue carbon policies that have grown significantly in recent years. In 2021, President Jokowi set an ambitious (although challenging) national mangrove rehabilitation target of 600,000 ha by 2024. This target shows the urgency to protect BCEs as an important asset for Indonesia.

It is further affirmed by the issuance of Presidential Regulation No. 98/2021 on Carbon Economic Value which addresses blue carbon as part of mitigation efforts that need to be incentivized for the government, private sector and local communities as implementing factors and beneficiaries of climate mitigation actions.

Subsequently, multiple initiatives have also emerged. Efforts to strengthen policy planning and coordination can be seen from the establishment of the National Mangrove Working Group, the National Mangrove Rehabilitation Roadmap 2021-2030, and very recently, the National Strategy for Wetlands (that includes mangroves). In this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Indonesia and the WEF signed a letter of intent and announced Indonesia as the first partner of the Blue Carbon Action Partnership.

The Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI), an independent national think-tank group, launched a report on Blue Carbon Ecosystem Governance in a seminar jointly organized with the Environment and Forestry Ministry and Marine Affairs and Fisheries (KKP) Ministry in January. Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya underlined in her opening speech approaches of the FOLU Net Sink and commitment to achieve “carbon governance.”

Protection of BCEs in Indonesia is governed in various legal regimes providing multiple “protection instruments” that can safeguard BCEs. Among them are protected areas, social forestry, ecosystem essential areas and customary management areas. A potential protection instrument that is being developed is the Kawasan Cadangan Karbon Biru (Blue Carbon Reserve Area) regulated in the spatial planning regime, which is already planned in 15 Kawasan Strategis Nasional Tertentu (Certain National Strategic Areas) (KKP, 2023).

Although these protection instruments seem promising, a loophole presents as a threat for BCE protection. Existing legal and policy frameworks are yet to provide strong protection of BCEs, as laws still allow BCEs to be substituted or replaced. Specifically, protection instruments that safeguards BCEs can be overridden by other economic activities according to the Job Creation Law. Development of strategic national projects that replace and substitute existing mangroves even though they are considered as critical natural capital may cause great losses. In fact, the World Bank report (2021) found that conservation of existing mangrove holds greater economic value than restoration.

Hence, the government should refrain from taking the “easy road” through allowing replacement of BCEs with other economic activities, and in turn aim at enabling protection at the greatest level to avoid BCE degradation that may impact climate, coastal protection, biodiversity and greater losses experienced by blue carbon dependent communities. The IOJI report offers several key policy recommendations to pave the way for effective protection.

First, defining BCEs as critical natural capital (CNC) in accordance with the concept of strong sustainability, in line with article 33 paragraph 4 of the 1945 Constitution, which recognizes ecologically sustainable and equitable development (ESD). Second, establishing strict requirements to replace/substitute CNC with other economic activities. Third, strengthening coastal tenure to complement and support tenurial security for blue carbon dependent people where forest tenure approaches are currently mainly used.

Fourth, clarifying roles and functions and strengthening coordination mechanisms among relevant ministries and institutions. Fifth, accelerate the preparation of action plans or roadmaps for BCE management and protection by optimizing and synergizing the work of ministries and agencies through integrated and inclusive processes. Sixth, developing effective monitoring and enforcement systems through strengthening capacity, ability and integrity of enforcement officers.

The aforementioned actions are required to fully realize the potential of BCEs in disaster risk reduction, protecting from climate-related coastal risks, achieving Indonesia’s climate ambition (such Jakarta Post’s screenshot 5 as inclusion of BCEs in mitigation efforts within the second Nationally Determined Contribution planned for 2025), and also importantly, to improve livelihoods of blue carbon-dependent communities.

*** Mas Achmad Santosa is CEO of the Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI) and lecturer of environmental law, School of Law, University of Indonesia. Karenina Lasrindy is program manager for the Blue Carbon Ecosystems governance program at the IOJI.

This article was published in thejakartapost.com with the title “Charting a path toward strong blue carbon governance”


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