Adapting in a carbon pool?

Routledge, August 2018, A Critical Approach to Climate Change Adaption, Chapter III.8

Politicising climate change at Sumatra’s oil palm frontier

 ]onas Hein and Yvonne Kunz



When visiting villages in Jambi province on the island of Sumatra in 2013, peasants told us that the Indonesian Government had recently proclaimed their forests to be ‘lungs of the earth’. This phrase is the local interpretation of a recent concept developed by economists and conservationists within the context of international climate policy-specifically the REDD+ mechanism (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). The Indonesian Government declared Jambi province as one of its official provinces for piloting the UN-backed REDD+ mechanism. Since about 2010, Jambi province has sought to position itself as a frontrunner in low-carbon development illustrated by a number of low-carbon development, greenhouse gas reduction, and forest conservation strategies and new public and private forest conservation initiatives. However, many peasants and indigenous communities have not welcomed new protected areas and the expansion of corporate oil palm concessions for global mitigation objectives. Peasants are engaging in open and hidden resistance against oil palm companies and conservation authorities in the area. This has led to violent clashes with private and public security agencies (see Colchester et al. 2011; Steinebach 2013; Beckert et al. 2014; Hein and Faust 2014; Hein 2016; Hein et al. 2016).

The expansion of conservation areas and oil palm plantations – at a first glance two contradictory developments – was at least partially driven by the same global climate policy objective articulated within Jambi’s low-carbon development strategy: mitigating climate change. The reasoning is that oil palms would capture atmospheric carbon and provide a source of apparently carbon-neutral fuel while forest conservation would result in the capture and long-term storage of atmospheric carbon. However, mitigation policies in rural Jambi involve significant trade-offs, indicated by violent conflicts, water scarcity, and biodiversity loss (Hein 2016; Klasen et al. 2016; Merten et al. 2016; Teuscher et al. 2016). Violent conflicts and water scarcity, in particular, undermine the second objective of climate policy, namely adaptation to the impacts of climate change. Adaptation and mitigation are often framed as a binary opposition which originates in these topics having been discussed separately under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (Swart and Raes 2007: 289; Görg 2011: 413; Watts 2015: 37). Mitigation policies focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and thus limiting global warming, while adaptation policies focus on reducing vulnerability to the effects of global warming. However, this does not take account of the interdependent relationship between society and nature (e.g. atmosphere) (Görg 2011: 415). Nature and inherent biophysical processes of the atmosphere can be shaped by society (as anthropogenic climate change illustrates), while the material condition of the natural environment at the same time influences society (ibid.). Climate policy, and adaptation and mitigation as its component parts, reshapes societal relationships with nature in multiple ways (Görg 2011: 413). Forest conservation, forest carbon offsetting, and oil palm cultivation challenge pre-existing modes of production such as shifting cultivation. Conservation, oil palm cultivation, and shifting cultivation are characterised by different and competing societal relationships with nature. Oil palms indeed capture greenhouse gases if the plantations are not replacing forests. However, in addition to a number of land tenure conflicts involving palm oil companies in Jambi, oil palm cultivation might also compete with the cultivation of food crops and increase water scarcity (Merten et al. 2016).

This chapter seeks to contextualise and contribute to the politicisation of climate change policy. Emphasis is given to trade-offs between different policy objectives formulated and realised at different political scales. Impacts of mitigation policies on the ability of societal actors to adapt to climate change and climate variability are highlighted. We consider adaptation and mitigation as embedded in existing power asymmetries and political ecologies. First, we focus on climate change policy in Jambi province. We argue that a sole focus on mitigation and the lack of a provincial adaptation policy reflects the interests of international donors, conservation organisations, and national government rather than societal actors in Jambi. Second, based on two case studies we show how climate policy changes geographies of resource access and control and how certain actors may become marginalised, making them more vulnerable to environmental change (Zimmerer and Bassett 2003; Watts 2015: 34). The first case study shows how the expansion of oil palm cultivation, which is at least partially driven by low-carbon fuel policies in Indonesia and the European Union (Bourguignon 2015: 2), has caused water pollution and freshwater scarcity and as a result has reduced the adaptive capacity of rural households. The second case study illustrates how the expansion of a privatised biodiversity and carbon conservation area, financed by the German International Climate Initiative (IKI), challenges peasant agriculture. The expansion of this conservation area has fostered land conflicts by restricting access to natural resources to local actors, hence challenging pre-existing modes of production. As a consequence, this has reduced the adaptive capacity of peasant migrants while protecting watersheds and providing alternative income sources for parts of the indigenous population.

To investigate the climate politics in Jambi province and the ability of societal actors impacted by environmental change and climate policies to adapt to climate shifts, this research follows a multi-sited qualitative approach. Semi-structured interviews with actors, most of them directly involved in different forest conservation and climate mitigation projects or impacted by the projects as well as by oil palm expansion, were conducted on different political scales between May 2012 and August 2016. Field trips to Jambi province took place between July and December 2012, between August and September 2013, and in August 2016. Interviews were used to unravel provincial climate policies, environmental change, access relations, land-use trajectories, and land-use conflicts. Interviews were recorded, transcribed (in part by Indonesian and German research assistants), and coded using Atlas Ti and MaxQDA data analysis software. This chapter also builds on a review of Indonesian laws and regulations, as well as reports and policy documents from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and state agencies.

Beyond mitigation and adaptation: towards a political ecology of climate change

The causes and consequences of climate change and related climate policy have material and spatial implications (Liverman 2015: 303). Political ecologists focus on the ‘constantly shifting dialectic between society and land-based resources and also within classes and groups within society itself’ (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987: 17). The starting point for our endeavour to investigate climate policy and its impacts on Sumatra’s peasant communities is the assumption that power differentials and social identity are important explanations for socially  differentiated impacts of climate, forest, and conservation policies and for the ability of actors to shape these policies. We build on a dual understanding of nature based on the societal relationships with nature concept (e.g. Görg 1999). Nature has a material dimension and a symbolic dimension. Although the meanings of nature are socially constructed, we acknowledge that nature has a material basis (Escobar 1999: 3; Görg 2011: 416). The material properties of the very same nature (Görg 2011: 416), for example a forest, can be socially constructed in many different ways and depend on the social position of actors (Escobar 1999: 5). A forest can serve either as a carbon pool and sink or as a space used by shifting cultivators. The ability to define nature is inseparably linked with power relations and so affects the way different actors interact with nature, and thus affects their ability to adapt to a changing climate.

We argue that trade-offs between different actors, different types of natural resource use, and different policy objectives (such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, expanding agro-fuel production, and adaptation to climate change) characterise the political ecologies of climate change (Gezon and Paulson 2004: 2; Görg 2011: 419-20; McShane et al. 2011: 966; Bustamante et al. 2014: 3275). Drawing on the ‘double exposure’ framework developed by Leichenko et al. (2010), we argue that marginalised actors face triple exposure. They are not only affected by climate change and neoliberal globalisation, but are also increasingly negatively affected by attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Osborne 2011; Aggarwal 2014; Hein and Faust 2014; Schade and Obergassei 2014; Smits and Middleton 2014; Horstmann and Hein 2017). We therefore situate the vulnerability of actors to climate and environmental change within the context of the wider political economy (Bassett and Fogelman 2013: 45).

National and provincial climate policy

The Indonesian Government has formulated a number of policies on climate change since the UN climate change conference in Bali in 2007. Most focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2011, the Indonesian Government committed to reduce its carbon emissions until 2020 by 26 per cent compared with business-as-usual (41 per cent with international support) (DNPI 2010; Hein 2013; RoI 2016). A National Plan for Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions (Rencana Aksi Nasional penuruan Gas Rumah Kaca, RAN-GRK) based on the Presidential Regulation of the Republic of Indonesia No 61 Year 2011 outlined a number of different policies. The regulation requires each of the 34 1 provinces of Indonesia to set out a Local Action Plan for Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction (Rencana Aksi Daerah Pengurangan Emisi Gas Rumah Kaca, RAD-GRK). RAN-GRK and RAD-GRK both include policies that promote oil palm cultivation (RoI 2011: 3; Pemerintah Provinsi Jambi 2012).

More recently, the Indonesian Government has formulated its nation-ally determined contribution (NDC) as required under the Paris Agreement. The first NDC of the Republic of Indonesia states the national commitment ‘towards a low carbon and climate change-resilient development’ (RoI 2016: 1 ). The document mainly repeats pre-existing policies such as RAN-GRK but also includes adaptation objectives. In the NDC, it is further explained that Indonesia plans to achieve, by 2020, an ‘archipelagic climate resilience as a result of comprehensive adaptation and mitigation programs and disaster risk reduction strategies’ (Roi 2016: 2). Under its mitigation initiatives, the document mentions Indonesia’s role in the international REDD+ process. In 2011, Jambi province was appointed as one of 11 provinces in Indonesia to be designated a REDD+ pilot province. The REDD+ Strategy and Action Plan for Jambi province from 2013 refers to adaptation only as a co-benefit of policies reducing deforestation. For further adaptation efforts, the NDC refers to the National Action Plan on Climate Change Adaptation (Rencana Aksi Nasional – Adaptasi Perubahan Iklim, RAN-API). Under this plan, risks shall be reduced in various sectors including agriculture, water, and forestry. Compared with the National Action Plan for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction (i.e. RAD-GRK), this document is at an early stage of development. To date, it only provides preliminary thoughts on ways to achieve increased resilience to the effects of climate change. Although the important role of local government is stressed, provincial action plans are yet to be compiled (RoI 2013: 16). ‘To date there is no climate change adaptation funding policy specifically developed to support the implementation of adaptation action plans in Indonesia’ (ibid.: 17). Priority pilot locations have been recommended, but Jambi province is not among them (ibid.: 20). Also mentioned in the NDC is the joint adaptation and mitigation programme PROKLIM, an initiative implemented at the village level. Although 12 villages in Jambi province have been proposed as potential PROKLIM villages, only one has so far been accepted.

At the provincial level, the Creating Low Carbon Prosperity in ]ambi strategy is worth mentioning here (DNPI 2010), as well as the Singaporean-Indonesian collaboration to deal with the land and forest fires in ]ambi province (NEA 2009).

Examining what these strategies entail for Jambi province is sobering. Even though mitigation and adaptation appear as a couple in national-level documentation, this is not the case for provincial-level documents. The low-carbon prosperity strategy has a sole focus on mitigation. There is no reference to adaptation, not even as a co-benefit of mitigation efforts such as forest conservation and low-carbon agriculture.

How to adapt in a carbon pool: contextualising Jambi’s climate policies

Jambi province covers over 5.3 million hectares. Oil palm and rubber are the predominant crops, with 1.2 million hectares under rubber cultivation and 1.3 million hectares under oil palm cultivation in 2015. Of the 3.3 million people living in Jambi, around 54 per cent earn a living through agricultural activities (for 2014) (BPS Provinsi Jambi 2014). In 2016, 7.3 per cent of Jambi’s rural population lived below the national poverty line. This is significantly lower than the national rural average of 13.96 per cent (BPS 2017).

The case study area in southeastern Jambi addressed here is located in the hilly lowlands or peneplain zone that makes up two-thirds of the province (Hein 2016). The lowlands are classified as wet tropical climate, typically with one short dry season (only one month having less than 60 mm average rainfall) (Perbatakusuma et al. 2012: 38). Nevertheless, droughts associated with the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon occur regularly in Jambi. Severe ENSO droughts took place in 1983, 1998, and 2015 (Merten et al. 2016).

To investigate the triple exposure of societal actors to climate variability (such as periodic ENSO events), climate policy, and neoliberal globalisation, it is necessary to understand the historical political economy context. This helps to explain the root causes of structural inequality in south-eastern Jambi. In pre-colonial times, Jambi was one of several Sultanates along the Strait of Malacca. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Sultanate was a prosperous trading centre for forest products (beeswax, resin, gum, rattan, timber), and for pepper and gold (Locher-Scholten 2004: 37). At the time of the Dutch conquest over Jambi province in the early twentieth century, shifting cultivation, hunting, and forest gardens were important livelihood strategies for the different semi-nomadic ethnic groups that lived in Jambi’s lowlands (Andaya 2008: 205; Hein 2016: 118). The Batin Sembilan groups that constitute the indigenous population in south-eastern Jambi trace their origins back to these groups (Steinebach 2013: 71; Hein 2016: 125). The Dutch introduced rubber cultivation, established the first protected areas, initiated sedentarisation of the Batin Sembilan, and challenged customary land tenure (Hein 2016: 120; Hein et al. 2016: 384).

Even more profound and disruptive changes occurred after independence and in particular during President Suharto’s autocratic rule (1967-98) (Hein et al. 2016). The post-colonial government declared large parts of Jambi’s lowlands as state forest and allocated this land to logging companies and later to oil palm companies and transmigrants from Java, ignoring the presence of indigenous groups and displacing them from their ancestral lands. From the 1980s onward, land increasingly became a commodity, and the expansion of corporate logging concessions, oil palm concessions, and smallholder oil palm and rubber cultivation challenged pre-existing modes of production and access and property relations (Hein 2016: 118-24). The most recent change has been driven by global climate policy and by the idea of ‘governing through markets’ (Peet et al. 2011: 7). Environmental issues such as deforestation and climate change are now subject to commodity markets, land, carbon, and ecosystem service markets. In Indonesia, ideas of market environmentalism and market-oriented spatial planning (Radjawali et al. 2017) have resulted in regulations that permit companies to bid for ecosystem restoration concessions, again neglecting the presence of peasant and indigenous Settlements in the forests (Hein 2016: 139).

South-eastern Jambi is currently experiencing violent land conflicts involving different state agencies, peasant activists, indigenous communities, and oil palm, conservation, and timber companies (Steinebach 2013; Beckert et al. 2014; Hein et al. 2016; Merten et al. 2016). These conflicts set the scene for climate policies in Jambi. At the same time, attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions intensify the conflicts and the impacts of conflicts, such as the dispossession of agricultural land, destruction of houses, evictions, and environmental change owing to oil palm expansion (ibid.). These impacts in turn influence the ability of peasants to adapt to climate change and climate variability which, as outlined above, is the second goal of the UNFCCC.

Case study 1: agro-fuel,2 water scarcity, and land conflicts

Rapid land-use and land-cover change has shaped the socio-ecological transformation in Indonesia over recent decades. Between 1985 and 1997, 22.5 million hectares of Indonesia’s tropical rainforest were cleared at an average rate of 1.9 million hectares per year, a process which has been slowed but is far from having been halted (Forest Watch Indonesia 2014: 4). The area under oil palm cultivation in Indonesia, one of the reasons why forest is cleared, reached 11.3 million hectares in 2015 (Direktorat Jenderal Perkebunan 2015: 3). Indonesia is the biggest palm oil producer, followed by Malaysia. India, China, and the EU are the largest net importers of palm oil (FAPRI 2014). More palm oil will be needed to serve the growing agro-fuel demands. In 2010, 57 per cent of the European palm oil imports were used for food production, with only 8 per cent used for the production of agro-diesel. Four years later, the numbers had reversed, with 45 per cent used for biodiesel and 34 per cent for food production (and 16 per cent for electricity and heating) (Valin et al. 2015). The aim of increased use of biofuels, for which palm oil is also used, is to decarbonise the transport sector (Bourguignon 2015: 2). The EU’s biofuel policy, which sets the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions as its primary goal, has been the subject of much debate (ibid.: 3 ). Nevertheless, a blending target in the EU Biofuels Directive remains. In short, oil palm is also grown for international mitigation purposes. In many parts of Jambi, we observed negative adaptation trade-offs related to this mitigation objective.

Oil palm cultivation is less labour-intensive than rubber cultivation, results in a higher gross per labour unit than other crops (Schwarze et al. 2015; Clough et al. 2016), and so provides the opportunity to invest additional labour in off-farm activities. However, villagers also report a number of trade-offs of oil palm cultivation. These include water scarcity, lower food production and thus lower food availability, and land-use conflicts.

Bakti Mulya, for instance, is a transmigration village located in a district where 22 transmigration villages were set up in the 1980s, all in cooperation with oil palm companies. The transmigration programme is the world’s largest government-sponsored voluntary resettlement programme (World Bank 1988: iii). Participants received a house and in many cases 2.5 hectares of oil palm plantation ready for cultivation. For Jambi province, 70,000 households were moved to the province under the transmigration programme between 1967 and 1995, many in cooperation with oil palm companies.

In Bakti Mulya, the doctor of the local health station is a young woman from Jakarta. She reported that the oil palm plantation affects water quality as well as water quantity and would not shower her children in the water from the wells without first cleaning it with a filter. Her household is the only one in the village equipped with a filter. She also reported that the wells periodically run dry, which had not happened in the past.3 Merten et al. (2016: 9) confirmed this observation as a correlation of water scarcity and oil palm plantations by stating that oil palm is ‘largely responsible for decreasing local water tables and water supplies’.

As oil palm plantations take up an increasing amount of land, less is available for other crops. In all villages visited, there were reports of a strong decrease in food production in the area. None of the villages visited produced food for local markets. The food in the markets is brought in from other areas of Sumatra. The villages west of Desa Baru are all aligned along a dirt road (see Figure 8.1). In times of heavy rain the road becomes virtually impassable, periodically preventing local markets from taking place and resulting in higher food prices when they resume.4 Moreover, the sole focus on oil palm makes peasants highly vulnerable to the market price of palm oil. At the time of fieldwork in 2012, palm oil prices were relatively low. One interviewee reported that he usually employs 20 people; in November 2011 he had to dismiss ten of them. The woman hosting us during the fieldwork told us that she was pleased to have visitors because they meant a distraction from the worries she was experiencing caused by the low palm oil price. Decreasing prices during an economic crisis put those households that do not produce food crops at particular risk.

Another direct trade-off from policies supporting the expansion of corporate oil palm plantations is the increasing amount of land-use and land-tenure conflicts (Beckert 2017; Steinebach and Kunz 2017). Local smallholders without de jure land titles struggle to maintain access to increasingly contested land (Kunz et al. 2016). In particular, the rapid expansion of smallholders and corporate oil palm plantations and the simultaneous expansion of protected areas have been conflictive and contradictory (Hein et al. 2016). A Batin Sembilan elder explained: ‘Originally this was all community land. We had rubber, durian, and jernang [dragon blood]. It was land of the people but the oil palm company destroyed it with bulldozers’ (cited in Hein 2016: 143). In many cases, the Batin Sembilan do not accept being expelled from their ancestral land and so occupy the oil palm plantations established on these grounds (Beckert and Keck 2015). At the end of 2013, one such conflict escalated into violence when 1,500 soldiers pulled down 300 houses allegedly built on land under concession to an oil palm company (Parker 2013 ).

Case study 2: conflicts in the ‘Forest of Hope’

The Harapan Rainforest5 is a private forest conservation project (see Figure 8.1) established by the conservation company Restorasi Ekosistem Indonesia (PT REKI)6 in an ecosystem restoration concession. PT REKI won the bid for the concession in 2010. The project has received financial support from the Environmental Support Program of Danida, the German International Climate Initiative (IKI), the European Commission, and Singapore Airlines (Hein 2016). The project aims to restore and protect dry lowland rainforest and to store up to 15 million tonnes of CO2 over 30 years (IKI 2016). At the same time, it aims to maintain the provision of other ecosystem services such as water regulation and protection against extreme weather events (BirdLife International 2007). In addition to the forest conservation and climate change mitigation objectives, PT REKI aims to develop ecotourism, offer ‘green jobs’ (IKI 2016), and support peasants and indigenous communities in developing low-carbon and biodiversity-friendly land-use practices. Some of the indigenous peasants that agreed to cooperate with the conservation company received conditional land tenure, access to health care, clean water, agricultural extension services, and have been employed as forest rangers or as labourers in the community nurseries (Hein 2016: 174 ). The main idea behind these ‘community benefits’ is to decouple the livelihood strategies of local communities from the exploitation of local natural resources or at least to transform them in ways that PT REKI considers ‘environmentally friendly’. Moreover, PT REKI argues that conserving forests reduces the vulnerability of the poorest local communities that depend on forest resources (European Commission 2006; BirdLife lnternational 2007).

However, not all actors agree with PT REKI’s objectives. Some peasant migrants and indigenous communities supported by village and district governments and by peasant organisations such as Serikat Petani Indonesia (SPI, Indonesian Peasant Union) engage in open resistance and claim large parts of the project area. In the course of the still ongoing conflict between peasants and the conservation company, a number of peasants reported that they had lost access to their agricultural land, that their plantations had been destroyed, that they had had to stop swidden rice cultivation, and that they had been evicted from their land within the conservation concession (Hein 2016). Same peasants criticised the objectives of the conservation project and argued in reference to the European engagement that the rich countries should reduce greenhouse gas emissions at home. Others reminded us that their ‘home is not the carbon toilet for the rich countries’ (ibid.).

The ability of the conservation company to manage almost 100,000 hectares of land for conservation and climate mitigation purposes and its impacts on the local peasants can only be explained when considering the political economy context. PT REKI’s success in obtaining its concession indicates that the company is well positioned with regard to different power dimensions. PT REKI’s material resources, such as the ability to pay taxes in advance, were necessary to obtain the concession. Furthermore, active lobbying of the founders of the conservation company led to the Ministry of Forestry reforming the forest management, which included the introduction of the earlier not yet existing ecosystem restoration concessions that permit access to land in the first place (Hein 2016: 188). In contrast, peasants and indigenous communities were unable to access de jure land titles. As a result, they are highly vulnerable to being evicted by de jure rights-holders – in this case PT REKI.

All these conflicts reflect controversial ontological assumptions about nature. Despite PT REKI’s argument to support the poorest local communities, the project mainly aims to protect ‘nature’ and the atmosphere from humankind. PT REKI claims to protect indigenous communities, forests, and other non-human species from the influence of peasant migrants. For instance, one of PT REKI’s shareholders argues that ‘the establishment of the Harapan Rainforest Initiative provides them [the Batin Sembilan] with the option of continuing to reside in a forest environment’ (BirdLife International 2008: 5). A field officer of PT REKI referred to the Harapan Rainforest as ‘a last resort for the Batin Sembilan’.7 The German NABU (Naturschutzbund Deutschland), who is a member of BirdLife International, argues that the survival of the Batin Sembilan depends on the protection of the Harapan Rainforest (NABU 2010: 1). In contrast, another field officer of PT REKI considers migrants ‘as a major challenge for conservation’. A representative of one of PT REKI’s donors argued that peasants and landowners operating in the project are a challenge for the Batin Sembilan. These Statements show that conservationists associated with PT REKI distinguish between peasant migrants (which are seen as external to nature) and indigenous groups (which are seen as part of a nature that should be preserved). However, the construction of simple dichotomies – indigenous groups versus peasant migrants and nature versus humankind – does not reflect the complex and dynamic social-ecological relations at Jambi’s oil palm frontier. Rather it reflects the strategic interests of PT REKI, using the presence of the Batin Sembilan and their alleged role as ‘forest-dependent people’ (BirdLife International 2008: 5) for legitimising forest conservation (Hein 2016: 202). Peasant migrants and indigenous groups are cooperating and have formed strategic alliances through inter-ethnic marriages and joint activism. Since pre-colonial times, both groups have actively transformed societal relationships with nature and have co-produced lowland rainforests, complex rubber and fruit tree agro-forestry systems, and more recently oil palm plantations (see Steinebach 2013; Hein et al. 2016).


The conflicts surrounding expanding oil palm plantations and the Forest of Hope indicate that peasants are exposed to climate change, climate change policy, and neoliberal globalisation. The conflicts centre on several often-neglected aspects of climate politics. First, they illustrate trade-offs between different objectives of the UNFCCC, namely between mitigation and adaptation. For example, forest conservation might reduce greenhouse gas emissions but in so doing might also restrict access to forests, and prohibiting agriculture and displacing peasants has a negative impact on the ability of actors to adapt to climate shifts. EU biofuel policies may also have negative indirect and direct land-use change impacts. For example, even if oil palm plantations do not directly replace forests, they may be indirectly responsible for forest clearance if they are grown on agricultural land that was previously used to grow other crops, and where the demand for the original crops remains and such crops are planted on land formerly under forest (Gerasimchuk and Koh 2013: 3).

In the Jambi province research area, livelihood strategies and peasants are not only challenged by climate variability; they are also challenged by climate policy interventions such as forest conservation and oil palm cultivation for biofuel production. This is not surprising given that avoiding emissions from deforestation is not a politically neutral intervention. Forest conservation and oil palm expansion are highly political processes that redefine societal relationships with nature. Forest conservation transforms forests that have been used for swidden rice farming since pre-colonial times into areas designated for interventions that maintain forest carbon. The two case studies show that adaptation and mitigation are not a binary opposition; they influence each other in positive and negative ways (Görg 2011: 415). Indeed, forests could also support adaptation, for instance by maintaining water provision during droughts or by providing forest products. The emerging literature on ecosystem-based adaptation (e.g. Munang et al. 2013) builds on the assumption that the protection of biodiversity and ecosystem services supports the ability of actors to adapt to the impacts of climate change (ibid.: 2). However, more important than the aggregated contribution of ecosystem services to well-being (Lele 2013) and adaptation is whether actors in need can actually benefit from them. This leads to questions of access to resources and ecosystems. For the Forest of Hope, the project restricts access to resources (e.g. to land) for peasants. Thus, how far actors will directly benefit from climate policy – whether labelled as adaptation, ecosystem-based adaptation, or mitigation – ultimately depends on the social position of actors and not only on the intervention as such.

Second and closely related to the first argument, the conflicts that have occurred in the Forest of Hope and conflicts between peasants and oil palm companies are embedded in power asymmetries between North and South and between different national actors. From a Northern perspective, forest conservation and oil palm expansion for agro-fuel production to mitigate climate change is an interesting approach for maintaining the current carbon-intense accumulation regime. It permits business as usual and avoids expensive mitigation activities in the global centres. Forest conservation in the Global South has lower opportunity costs than transforming fossil-fuel-dependent economies of the Global North. Consequently, the attractiveness of carbon conservation depends fundamentally on uneven development, and could thus contribute to its perseverance; and could even increase the vulnerability of actors to climate risks (McAfee 2012a, 2012b; Hein 2014 ). At the national level, allocating land to conservation and oil palm companies is a spatial planning decision that reflects power asymmetries. Losing access to land, which is the most important asset in rural landscapes, makes actors highly vulnerable to any kind of shock, including climate shocks.

Reports from other parts of the world indicate parallels with the situation in Jambi province. It is not only in Jambi that actors suffer from losing access to land (De Schutter 2011; Fairhead et al. 2012; Osborne 2013) and, as is the case in Jambi, this could result in a higher vulnerability to climate shocks in these areas.

This chapter has shown that the causes for these increased vulnerabilities are also to be found in the way societal-nature relationships are conceptualised and how mitigation and adaptation policies are developed. We therefore urge a change in perspective. We need to accept that society and nature, as well as mitigation and adaptation, are entangled on a discursive as well as practical level. These terms need to be considered as coupled concepts. Hence, the system of thinking about these terms needs to be changed in order to avoid negative impacts of climate change. In short: system change, not climate change.


1 Actually only 33 provinces have developed a provincial action plan. At the time of enactment, North Kalimantan was not yet a province and is included in the provincial plan of East Kalimantan.

2 This. chapter avoids using the terms ‘biofuel’ and ‘biodiesel’ as the prefix ‘bio’ implies a sustainability component. For the reasons outlined in this text the term is at a certain extent, a mismatch, which is why the more neutral term ‘agro-fuel’ or ‘agro-diesel’ is preferred for referring to fuel from vegetable oils through trans-esterification.

3 Personal interview, Bakti Mulya, 11 November 2012.

4 Own observations from October to December 2012, and July to November 2013.

5 English: forest of hope.

6 A transnational non-governmental (NGO) consortium comprising BirdLife International, Burung Indonesia, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

7 Personal interview, Jambi, 2 September 2012.

Yvonne Kunz studied human geography and cultural anthropology at the University of Trier, Germany. In 2016, she was awarded a PhD in human geography from the Georg- August-University Gottingen in Germany, where she is part of the German Research Foundation (DFG) funded Collaborative Research Centre on Ecological and Socioeconomic Functions of Tropical Lowland Rainforest Transformation Systems (Sumatra, Indonesia). She heads the Environment and Climate Desk of the Berlin-based non- governmental organisation Watch Indonesia! focusing on human rights, democracy, and the environment in Indonesia and East Timor.


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