An environmental network of governors across the world concluded its four-day annual meeting in East Kalimantan’s capital of Balikpapan on Thursday, agreeing to forge close cooperation with indigenous communities as part of the grouping’s deforestation reduction efforts.
This year’s meeting of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) is somewhat historical for the grouping because for the first time since its establishment in 2009, it puts the protection of indigenous peoples as a pivotal pillar in meeting the target of having each member reduce deforestation by 80 percent by 2020.
The pledge is included in the Balikpapan Statement, the final outcome produced in the meeting of the GFC, an alliance of 38 states and provinces across the world, as seen in the document distributed by the organizer.
Indigenous group leaders from countries attending the conference, including Indonesian representatives from the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), welcomed the pledge as an important step to expand efforts by subnational administrations to fight against climate change.
“We are ready to support it in order to ensure that the pledges of governors in this forum do not result in a lack of implementation,” AMAN secretary-general Rukka Sombolingi told the conference on Thursday.
In its move to recognize the role of indigenous peoples and to lay out actions that support them, the GCF referred to a study carried out by the Earth Innovation Institute in 2014 that shows indigenous communities across the globe are forest custodians that are critical in fighting climate change.
Indigenous groups in Indonesia, however, face various problems, ranging from the convoluted process of acknowledgment of their status to land conflicts with either local administrations or companies.
“There has to be a solution so that the acknowledgment process speeds up,” said Rukka.
Representing Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indigenas de la Cuenca (COICA) — an organization that coordinates among indigenous groups from nine states in the Amazon — at the conference, Alfonso Chavez said that indigenous peoples have different cultures compared to everyone else.
Therefore, he said, governments should “create a system” in which the two sides “sit together” when planning development projects that could affect the lives of the indigenous peoples.
The Balikpapan Statement also addresses two other main issues, namely deforestation reduction and financing. However, the statement is not legally binding for states and provinces within the GCF.
William Boyd, the GCF project lead, said the assessment of performances at the regional level depended on the system applied in each country.
At the conference, Norway announced its pledge to provide US$25 million to finance the implementation of the GCF’s targets.
Christoffer Gronstad, climate change and forest councilor at the Norwegian Embassy in Indonesia, said all GCF members were allowed to access the fund, which will be administered by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) REDD+ Office in Geneva, Switzerland.
“For any provinces to be able to access the fund, they will have to show that they do no harm [to indigenous peoples],” Gronstad said.
The seven Indonesian provinces with the largest forest coverage — East Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, West Kalimantan, North Kalimantan, Aceh, Papua and West Papua — are among members of the GCF. Yet, East Kalimantan Governor Awang Faroek Ishak and West Papua Deputy Governor Mohamad Lakotani were the only local leaders who attended the forum this year, raising questions over the seriousness of Indonesian members of the GCF in supporting the pledge.