In Sun’s view, the biggest problem was the failure of the global community to come up with a large-scale carbon market for REDD credits. Carbon credits are now bought and sold on what is called the ”voluntary market”. Airline companies use this to offset the emissions from their flights, as do some manufacturing companies to paint themselves green.
If a global trading market ever evolves under the United Nation’s painfully drawn-out processes, it would be a ”compliance market” vaster, deeper and more able to provide financial incentives to develop REDD schemes. But the only existing market, run by the European Union, does not accept forest credits.
The Rio+20 summit this month marks 20 years since the first Earth Summit, but a global trading system still seems a long way off. Without this, what Sun calls ”the cavalry of carbon”, any large-scale REDD scheme is going to have trouble competing against the other possible land uses in Indonesia.
So, as illegal burning and mining continues, Sun’s project is becalmed. Some of the forest rangers who are employed to protect the trees ”still cut the trees themselves”, says Firman Hidayat, who once helped train people here in REDD.
Sun says he has not given up, but he has changed his idea of what’s possible. He is now focused on ”REDD 2.0” – doing direct deals with big companies to protect the remnant forests within their concessions.
In Ulu Masen, REDD 2.0 meant ceding a forest-clad mountaintop, Miwah, a half-day trek from the nearest road, to a company that wants to make it into a 6000-hectare, open-cut gold pit. In May last year, Sun sold half the shares in Carbon Conservation to Vancouver-listed miner East Asia Minerals for $US700,000 plus 2,584,210 shares – then worth $3 million – in the mining company. The gold under Miwah is worth $5 billion.
East Asia Minerals does not yet have a permit to mine it because it lies underneath protected ”primary forest”. But environmentalists have accused Sun of allowing the company to improve its chances of gaining government approval by ”greenwashing” the venture. Elfian Effendi of respected Indonesian organisation Greenomics, argued that Sun used the carbon project as collateral to make money. And Frank Momberg, the chief of Flora and Fauna International – Sun’s former environmental and community partner in Ulu Masen – says he no longer has a relationship with Carbon Conservation.