The U.K. government is cutting a “highly effective” green growth program designed to prevent deforestation in the Indonesian Papuan provinces, just weeks after COP26 President Alok Sharma visited the country and urged it to be more ambitious in its climate ambitions.
The Green Economic Growth program was intended to preserve Papua’s 90% forest cover, according to Devtracker, the U.K. government’s tool for monitoring development programs. It focused on providing sustainable livelihoods to local populations, as a lack of alternative ways of making a living is often seen as a contributing factor to harmful environmental practices like deforestation.
But the GEG program, run by the U.K. Climate Change Unit, has now been entirely canceled three years into its planned five years. A May 20 letter sent by U.K. Ambassador to Indonesia Owen Jenkins to Abdul Halim Iskandar, Indonesia’s minister of villages at Development of Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration, announced the “UK will no longer continue its support” for the program.
“I understand that the closure of GEG will be unwelcome news and it is a decision we are very disappointed to have to make,” wrote Jenkins in a letter.
Iskandar replied in a June 2 letter, requesting a meeting with Jenkins and a temporary extension of the program so its “highly effective activities” would not be “abruptly” ended. He emphasized the program’s value and “significant impact” on local communities that have faced intense economic challenges.
The program attracted 22.8 billion rupiahs ($1.6 million) in investment from the private sector and local governments, according to Iskandar. He also noted it had gained the trust of local people, businesses, and governments. “This, by no means, is easy,” he wrote.
Indonesia is “unquestionably one of the most biodiverse countries in the world,” according to Fauna & Flora International, but it is also at high risk from deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices. West Papua and Papua are also troubled regions, where a simmering conflict with the Indonesian government has recently flared.
Earlier this month, Sharma — the U.K. Minister charged with leading climate negotiations — called for Indonesia and other G-20 countries to “move forward” with plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. “We want countries to set up their long-term strategy, to actually get to net-zero by the middle of the century,” Sharma told a panel.
“In my 35 year career, this is one of the best programmes I have ever worked on,” wrote Patrick Abbot, director at NIRAS-LTS International Ltd., the company running the project, in a May 22 letter to staff. Abbot wrote the decision came as a “complete surprise” and he expected the project to end by June 25.
He added: “The decision of the UK Government and the manner of the closing means that no sensible exit process can be managed to ensure sustainability of the project results going forward. It is very disappointing that the UK Government should act in this way: many people’s livelihoods will be affected.”