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Panel 6. Natural Resources and the Environment

Chair: Jeffery Burley (University of Oxford)

This panel explores cross cutting themes of history & future; mapping & governance; implications of new technologies; inter-disciplinarity with regards to the environment and its management. Our aim is to demonstrate expertise and collaboration within Oxford and beyond including academic and research institutions, commercial companies, and national and international agencies.

Session 1

Keynote: Deforestation, oil palm and environmental impacts in Southeast Asia

Yadvinder Malhi (Oxford Centre for Tropical Forestry)

Oil palm production is transforming tropical forest landscapes, and currently almost all of global oil palm production is in SE Asia, in particular Malaysia and Indonesia. Production of palm oil is a major component of economic growth, and of alleviation of rural poverty, in these countries, and meets rising global demand for vegetable oils. On the other hand, conversion of forests into oil palm plantations results in major losses of carbon stocks, biodiversity and hydrological function. Given that oil palm landscapes are likely to be a persistent and expanding future of tropical landscapes, a major challenge is to reconcile oil palm production with conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem function. The Ecosystems Group at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, is engaged in research in Sabah (Malaysia) and Sumatra (Indonesia) on understanding the ecosystem services and biodiversity of oil palm-forest fragment landscapes. I outline the research we are conducting in both oil palm landscapes.

Paper 1: REDD+ and the prospects for improved forest governance in Southeast Asia

Andrew Mitchell (Global Canopy Programme, Oxford)

Halting tropical deforestation has been elevated to a high political priority in SE Asia and globally, as a means of mitigating climate change and to stem the erosion of natural capital that underpins food, energy, water, and health security. This paper will argue that achieving this goal will require the resolution of a titanic economic imbalance between the demands of conservation and of global agribusinesses that convert forests for land on which to grow commodities for consumers worldwide. The paper will review the current status of the UN negotiations to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) and their potential impact on this imbalance. Using case studies drawn from Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea, it will examine the impact of REDD+ on forest governance.  It will highlight the political and economic barriers that make the transition to sustainability of the global supply chains that drive deforestation, so challenging and offer some innovative policy options that might stimulate such a transition in SE Asia, and globally, over the coming decades.

Paper 2: Sustaining Southeast Asia’s Forests: Community, Institution and Forest Governance in Thailand

Satyapriya Rout (Asia Research Centre, London School of Economics / University of Hyderabad, India)

Albeit its local, national and regional significance, deforestation and land-degradation have been integral parts of Southeast Asia’s forests. As per one estimation, from 1900 to 1989, Southeast Asia’s forests are declined from 250 million hectares to 60 million hectares, and continue to erode at well over one million hectare per year. The global and local consequences of deforestation, especially in the context of global environmental and climatic change and increasingly livelihood insecurity of forest dependent communities respectively, are a matter of serious concern in Southeast Asian region. In the midst of such global and local consequences, local communities in Southeast Asia have come forward to accept a greater role and responsibility in governance of these resources, and ‘Community Forestry’ has evolved as a grassroots social response to the problem of deforestation. It is in this wider context of community’s engagement in forestry, the present paper seeks to examine the process of community’s involvement in protection and management of its local forests resources in Thailand. To be specific, the paper attempts to examine the role played by the institution in providing a sustainable solution to the problems of deforestation and forest degradation. The paper is based upon qualitative data gathered from three cases of community forest management from Kanchanaburi, Lampang and Lamphun provinces of Thailand. The analysis is based on Elinor Ostro’s framework of Institutional Analysis and Development, and empirically examines the rule configurations associated with sustainable governance of local resources as provided by Ostrom. The paper concludes by way of identifying the prospects and problems of community forestry in Thailand, in particular and Southeast Asia at large.

Paper 3: Towards an Indonesia bird conservation ethos: insights from a study of songbird-keeping in the cities of Java & Bali 

Paul Jepson (School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford)

The keeping and competing of songbirds is a hugely popular pastime in the cities of western Indonesia. Demand for songbirds is depleting wild populations, yet the pastime generates significant cultural, economic and livelihood benefits. Indonesia’s engagement with international conservation actors has involved the adoption of western conservation governance logics and rationales that frame bird-keeping as a problematic and undesirable practice. Based on information and insights generated through a four-year study of bird keeping, competing and trade in Java & Bali this presentation will compare western bird conservation and Indonesian knowledge practices relating to birds and show that, far from conservation and bird-keeping being at odds, there are points of convergence from which an Indonesian bird conservation ethos could emerge. This would likely be distinct from western bird conservation logics and argues for a common, but differentiated, approach to conservation governance.

Session 2

Paper 1: The impact of artisanal gold mining in Southeast Asia
Yuyun Ismawati (University of Oxford)

Paper 2: An investigation into the resilience and sustainable management of tropical peat swamp forests.

Lydia Cole (Department of Zoology & School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford)

As the final frontier for agricultural development in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, the coastal peat swamp forests are undergoing rapid conversion, predominantly into oil palm plantations.  However, little is known about the ecological resilience of this ecosystem and whether it can recover from such disturbance.  This study aims to shed light on peat swamp forest dynamics, focusing on responses to past environmental disturbance, both natural and anthropogenic, and the relevance of this information for contemporary management.  Fossil pollen and charcoal analysis were performed on peat cores extracted from three locations in Sarawak.  Results demonstrate that these ecosystems have experienced limited disturbance since their development over 2000 years ago, with peat swamp forest taxa dominating the vegetation profile.  Wildfires have occurred throughout, but there is evidence for significant human disturbance only in the last several hundred years.  In terms of management, there is a mis-match between local stakeholders and the international community in the ways they value this ecosystem which needs to be addressed if these areas are to be conserved into the future.

Paper 3: Policy networks in the development of Indonesia’s National Strategy for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+)

Mari Mulyani (School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford)

Good governance principles were initially promoted in Indonesia by transnational networks, e.g. the World Bank, IMF, and NGOs during the Soeharto regime (1967-1998), which gained momentum when the regime fell as a result of the Asian financial crisis (1997-1998). These networks pushed governance reform by promoting the implementation of ‘transparency’ and ‘participation of stakeholders’ through programmes which align economic development with conservation activities. REDD+ is the latest in a series of international policy initiatives that have sought to influence forest governance in the country.

This raises the question whether REDD+ mechanism will have a better chance to promote reform in Indonesia’s forest institutions whilst previous efforts (e.g. Reduced Impact Logging (RIL), the Integrated Conservation and Development Project (ICDP), and the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Lending) achieved minimal success.

Employing the policy-network approach, this paper argues that since REDD+ has positioned tropical forests at the highest echelon of national and international policy, and gained massive financial support in the process, it has attracted a much wider range of actors that developed new networks. The transnational networks which previously often opposed each other’s agenda are now able not only to develop alliances amongst themselves, but also with actors from within domestic power structures. Since these networks have become closely-woven and multi-dimensional, collectively they are stronger when pushing the reform agenda.

Through key informant interviews and content analysis of relevant REDD+ policy documents, this study uses the development of Indonesia’s National REDD+ Strategy to examine how the principles of good governance, in particular ‘transparency’ and ‘participation’ are being adopted, and investigates how the policy networks negotiate with each other to push for the reform agendas.


Nature Resource Governance in Southeast Asia: Prospects and Research Needs 

Yadvinder Malhi (Oxford Centre for Tropical Forestry)
Andrew Mitchell  (Global Canopy Programme, Oxford)
Paul Jepson (School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford)
Mari Mulyani (School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford)
Lydia Cole (Department of Zoology & School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford)
Stephen Oppenheimer (Department of Anthropology, University of Oxford)
Yuyun Ismawati (University of Oxford)