PublicationsThe U4 Blog

U4 Brief

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in a context of nationalist oligarchy: Lessons from Indonesia

Thinking and working politically is often viewed as crucial for anti-corruption reform efforts in resource sectors. But what happens when it does not play a central role? Lessons from REDD+ implementation in Indonesia point to some actions for development practitioners. When working in a context of nationalist oligarchy it is vital to plan for reform backlash and governance deteriorations, and prioritise complementary democratic governance reforms.

11 November 2020
Download PDF
Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in a context of nationalist oligarchy: Lessons from Indonesia

Main points

  • Competitive post-Reformasi oligarchic interests in natural resource extraction are central in explaining REDD+ performance in Indonesia to date.
  • Resistance from the national forest bureaucracy and from subnational governments led to the 2015 disbanding of the National REDD+ Agency – a multi-stakeholder body established to bypass the then Ministry of Forestry due to concerns about corruption.
  • Deforestation of primary forests in Indonesia has declined since 2017, but CO2 emissions from peat-soil decomposition and burning are not included in the results-based payment protocol for REDD+. The resulting figures may be an underestimation of Indonesia’s overall forest-related carbon emissions, depending on the time period.
  • Satellite data reveals no decisive impact on reducing deforestation and forest degradation from pilot projects in Central Sulawesi, with other studies of REDD+ pilots elsewhere in Indonesia showing similar results.
  • Despite past successes in prosecuting high-level forest corruption offenders, new legislation in 2019 has reduced the authority and investigative powers of Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). There is a broad consensus among analysts that past prosecutions have not significantly diminished Indonesia’s forest sector corruption.
  • The imbalance between the incentives offered by REDD+ and economic rents from land conversion (often facilitated by corruption) have dampened the potential of REDD+ to slow Indonesia’s primary deforestation rate.
  • Practitioners in bilateral development agencies working on anti-deforestation initiatives should focus on ways to: (i) improve planning for reform backlash, (ii) challenge governance deteriorations when they occur, and (iii) prioritise work on complementary democratic governance reforms.

Cite this publication

Williams, A. (2020) Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Brief 2020:13)

Download PDF

About the author

Aled Williams is a political scientist and senior researcher at Chr. Michelsen Institute and a principal adviser at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre. He is responsible for U4's thematic work on corruption in natural resources and energy, and holds a PhD from SOAS, University of London, on political ecology of REDD+ in Indonesia.


All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


Aled Williams