More ambition needed from ASEAN Member States on forests and climate change

27 October 2021
Regan Pairojmahakij
Pledges by ASEAN Member States under the Paris Agreement on climate change must go further to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure local communities play a prominent role.
Practitioner's Insights
Tambagguruyung Community Forest in Lebak Muncang Village, Ciwidey, West Java, Indonesia
Tambagguruyung Community Forest in Lebak Muncang Village, West Java, Indonesia, RECOFTC

When Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meet in Glasgow next month for the COP26 conference, much attention will focus on the effectiveness of their voluntary pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Those pledges are called nationally determined contributions or NDCs. They are a key component of the UNFCCC’s Paris Agreement on climate change, which sets the goal of limiting global heating to 2°C, and ideally 1.5°C, above the pre-industrial level. 

Under the Paris Agreement, parties to the UNFCCC had until 2020 to update their provisional ‘intended’ nationally-determined contributions (INDCs) into enhanced and more ambitious NDCs. While these updated pledges represent a 12 percent decrease in emissions compared to the INDCs, overall emissions are still rising.

This is a problem because reaching the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious 1.5°C goal would require global greenhouse gas emissions to fall by 45 percent from 2010’s level by 2030. But according to the UNFCCC Secretariat’s synthesis report, even with the enhanced NDCs, emissions are still set to rise by 16.3 percent by 2030. So, rather than capping temperature increase at 1.5°C, it puts us on track for a 2.7°C warmer world by the end of the century. 

The forestry and land use sector (FOLU) is an important part of the equation, particularly in Southeast Asia. Approximately 43 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions from the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) come from this sector. RECOFTC holds that for these emissions to be addressed, local communities must be fully at the table.

How have ASEAN countries stepped up to the urgency and need for ambition on climate change? 


In Cambodia, FOLU is the highest carbon-emitting sector, contributing 49.2 percent of total emissions. In its new NDC, Cambodia pledges to halve the deforestation rate by 2030. However, it is not clear whether this is a quantitative improvement on its INDC, in which Cambodia expressed its intent to increase forest cover to 60 percent of national land area by 2030. This is a common challenge among countries in the transition between INDCs and NDCs. After the submission of INDCs, there was global consensus on the need for greater clarity, transparency and understanding in information being submitted in the NDCs.


Indonesia’s original INDC pledged an unconditional 26 percent reduction in emissions, rising to 41 percent with international support. This has improved slightly with a new target for unconditional reductions of 29 percent and conditional reductions of up to 41 percent. In addition, Indonesia submitted a revised ‘business-as-usual’ baseline, pushing allowable emissions marginally lower. The UN-led scheme for reducing emissions from forest sectors known as REDD+ remains an important component of the NDC target. While Indonesia cancelled a significant US$1 billion REDD+ agreement with Norway earlier this year, its government has reiterated that this will not impede national efforts to reduce emissions.

Priority sectors for mitigation in NDCs from countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Adapted from ESCAP, Progress of NDC implementation in Asia-Pacific, 2020.
Priority sectors for mitigation in NDCs from countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Adapted from ESCAP, Progress of NDC implementation in Asia-Pacific: Methodological framework and preliminary findings, 2020.

Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR)

The most notable development in Lao PDR’s enhanced NDC is the formulation of new targets for reducing emissions. Lao PDR will now reduce FOLU emissions by 1,100 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year between 2020 and 2030. This is three times more than the reduction achieved between 2000 and 2015. The country’s previous INDC had included a goal of expanding forest cover to 70 percent of the land area, but had no specific metrics for emissions reductions. 


FOLU is a big emitting sector in Myanmar and its NDC focuses on this. It sets a conditional target of reducing deforestation by 50 percent by 2030 with the provision of international support. This is alongside an unconditional target to reduce deforestation by 25 percent. The country’s FOLU strategy includes REDD+ results-based payments supplementing enhanced REDD+ policies and measures. The NDC also specifically mentions community forestry as a strategy for reducing emissions. While the FOLU-related commitments appear positive, the current political situation throws into question the effectiveness of implementation and also the international support needed for the conditional commitments to materialize.

In the period between 2001 and 2019, Southeast Asia lost 610,000 square kilometers of forest—an area slightly less than the size of Myanmar. 


Thailand did not include the FOLU sector within its original INDC mitigation targets and to date that remains the case in its updated NDC. Thailand intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from its business-as-usual trajectory. With technology transfer, financial resources and capacity building, this could increase up to 25 percent.

Viet Nam

In its latest NDC, Viet Nam pledges to have unconditionally taken measures to reduce emissions by 9 percent by 2030, and by 27 percent with international support. This is an upgrade from 8 percent and 25 percent respectively, in the country’s INDC. As with Indonesia, Viet Nam has adjusted its ‘business-as-usual’ baseline reference year to deepen the target reductions. In Viet Nam, forest cover has been increasing. It reached 41.9 percent by the end of 2019 and is targeted to reach 45 percent by 2030. Particularly when the agriculture sector is combined with FOLU, Viet Nam has made fairly significant commitments in the land use sector.

Increase in ambition needed, with forests and communities at the centre

Overall, FOLU is a prominent sector throughout ASEAN countries. Thailand is an outlier in not including it in its mitigation targets, though there are suggestions it still might. Other countries such as Viet Nam have made consistent progress in reversing deforestation trends. But overall, in the period between 2001 and 2019, Southeast Asia lost 610,000 square kilometers of forest—an area slightly less than the size of Myanmar. 

And so far, there has been only a limited increase in ambition in the NDCs of ASEAN countries. Also lacking is recognition of the crucial role of communities in managing forests for multiple uses and benefits—including carbon capture. While Myanmar’s enhanced NDC is the only one to explicitly mention community forestry as a mitigation action, most of the other countries include REDD+ and sustainable forest management, the strategies for which almost all include community forestry. 

As countries continue to update and strengthen their commitments, communities need a seat at the table where decisions are made, a prominent role in implementation and support to ensure they can participate effectively in climate action. In the days leading up to COP26, further updated submissions are anticipated and much needed. These must be significantly more ambitious and must put the FOLU sector as well as local communities squarely at the centre, for the long-term wellbeing of us all.


Regan Pairojmahakij is a senior program officer on landscapes in a changing climate at RECOFTC.

RECOFTC's work is made possible with the continuous support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).