Land-Use Planning for Climate Change? Subnational Case Studies from Brazil and Indonesia

Land-Use Planning for Climate Change? Subnational Case Studies from Brazil and Indonesia

Rauf Prasodjo, MEM 20141


Ambitious national greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reduction targets were made by both Brazil and Indonesia in 2009. The expansion of oil palm plantations in Indonesia and soybean farms in Brazil that are often linked to deforestation could deter efforts to achieve these targets. Land-use planning activities at the subnational level might be a potential existing mechanism to regulate the expansion of these agricultural commodities and assist both countries in achieving their GHG commitments. However, initial research on the Provincial Land-Use Plans of West Kalimantan, Indonesia and the Socioecological Zoning Process of Mato Grosso, Brazil indicates that planning tools are subject to highly complex debates and are affected by political processes. In both case studies, a multitude of interests are involved, making it extremely difficult for successful sustainable development to occur and the climate change agenda to effectively permeate into subnational policy.

Introduction to Problem Definition

Climate Change Objectives in Brazil and Indonesia

In 2009, both Brazil and Indonesia internationally committed to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by approximately 40% each (Government of Brazil 2008, DNPI 2011, Wadojo and Fishbein 2011, Russell and Kotorac 2012). While GHG emission commitments are being made, national targets are also being created to increase economic growth in the agriculture sectors of both countries (Boer et al. 2012, Strassburg et al. 2012). The expansion of agricultural commodities, such as oil palm in Indonesia and soybeans in Brazil, has caused land-use changes and has increased GHG emissions through deforestation (Sheil et al. 2009, Jepson et al. 2009).

In order to pursue a more sustainable development path and to achieve GHG emission reduction goals in the time period stated, policy revisions should already be evident at the subnational level. Spatial and land-use planning activities are key elements in achieving sustainable development, mitigating GHG emissions, and addressing the consequences of climate change (IPCC 2007, Stern 2007:432, Wilson and Piper 2010). This paper provides preliminary analysis of the complexities in achieving outcomes that would reduce GHG emissions through existing planning activities in Brazil and Indonesia. These countries were chosen because of the high levels of deforestation occurring due to the agricultural sector, the similarity in GHG reduction commitments that these governments have made, and subnational land-use activities currently being conducted in both countries.


Subnational land-use planning processes are currently being conducted in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, through the Socioeconomic Ecological Zoning (Zoneamento Sócio- Econômico Ecológico, ZSEE) and in the province of West Kalimantan, Indonesia through the provincial spatial planning (Rencana Tata Ruang Wilayah Propinsi, RTRWP). The ZSEE and RTRWP could potentially be used as a way for both of these countries to reach their GHG targets. However, the political stalemate encountered by these states in the political stakeholder process caused improved land-use plans not to be enacted and passed through law. This paper examines the rationalities, conflicting goals, and limits of land-use planning by reviewing existing literature and theories of planning. I place emphasis on the different actors involved in the process of land-use planning to highlight the difficulties surrounding such activities. I collected primary documents and conducted semi-structured interviews during the summer of 2013 in the capital cities of both states. Interviews were conducted with key actors in the state government, the private sector, environmental and social non-governmental organizations in order to gain key information on the process and current status of the subnational land-use plans. Interview questions were focused on obtaining data on the chronological implementation of land-use policy and identifying the roles of major institution and actors involved in the development of the land-use plans.

Theoretical Literature

Planning: A Tool to Reach Convergence?

The utopian vision of the contemporary planner is described by Campbell (1996:296), in which he states that the planner must reconcile at least three often-opposing interests to “grow the economy, distribute this growth on equitable terms, and protect the environment and ecosystem.” The difficulties of planning are often considered “wicked problems,” which are complex, multifaceted and dynamic in nature (ibid.: 201). What may seem to be the solution to one problem could result in the creation of another problem in a different area. Campbell’s concept holds for planners who face the debate of sustaining the “triple bottom line” between economic, social and environmental factors. He argues “the challenge for planners is to deal with the conflicts between competing interests by discovering and implementing complementary uses” (ibid:300).

In practice, planning constitutes a social and political process that involves many actors and stakeholders, each representing their own interest (Friedmann 1987:25). In the political arena, this is where Friedmann’s dual role emerges and Campbell’s environmental protection paradigm of planning goals are heavily debated among various competing actors. The concept of sustainable development lies in the middle of a triangular sphere in which planning processes serve as a tool to obtain goals of economic growth, social justice, and environmental protection. Obtaining outcomes that constitute a balance of the different axis of sustainable development becomes the topic of debate.

Case Studies: Preliminary Findings of Land-Use Planning Activities in Brazil and Indonesia

The ZSEE in Mato Grosso Brazil

Land-use planning in Brazil is identified as the ZSEE process. This executive version of the ZSEE was submitted to Mato Grosso’s Legislative Assembly in March 2008 for public consultation. The state parliament consists mostly of deputies closely associated with the agribusiness sector who believed that the ZSEE was too heavily focused on environmental conservation and the allocation of land for indigenous communities.2 They argued that the ZSEE would put the agriculture sector at a disadvantage, preventing economic development and prosperity.3 The Legislative Assembly then passed a ZSEE version of their own, which would allow conservation areas and indigenous lands to be converted for agricultural purposes. In response, there was a major public outcry from civil society organizations, universities, and social activists of the state. In turn, this led to the rejection of the bill by the national government and a Public Civil Action case brought to the Specialized Court on Environmental Defense (Vara Especializada de Defesa do Meio Ambiente). To date, Mato Grosso still remains without the ZSEE.

The ZSEE process in Mato Grosso provides an example of the difficulties of various political and civil society actors in constructing a policy tool to converge ideas, interests and positions on planning. Using the ZSEE in Mato Grosso as a tool to achieve GHG reduction has not been implemented by policymakers. Brazil’s 2008 National Plan on Climate Change states that approximately 16% of the target emission reductions by 2020 are to be done in the agriculture sector (Russell and Kotorac 2012), in which 64% of these reductions are to be realized by decreases in the expansion of agriculture including in Mato Grosso. However, there has been very little discussion of incorporating the federal government’s climate change targets and strategies for GHG mitigation with state level policies such as the ZSEE.

The RTRWP in West Kalimantan, Indonesia

Much of the debate regarding the provincial land-use planning in Indonesia, RTRWP, surrounds the amount of Forest Estate that should be released by the Ministry of Forestry to the jurisdiction of the local governments (mainly district governments for economic development purposes).4 Approximately 60% of the total area of West Kalimantan is currently classified as Forest Estate.5 The remaining area is classified as Non-Forest Estate (Areal Penggunaan Lain, or APL). The primary purpose of this land includes the development of settlement areas and agriculture activities. As of December 2013, the Ministry of Forestry has not approved the suggested changes of the RTRWP made by the local government of West Kalimantan to the Forest Estate (Directorate General of Spatial Planning 2013). The Ministry of Forestry is concerned about the various different claims made by the provincial parliament and civil society organizations with regard to the optimal amount of Forest Estate that should be released for development. The executive government and private sector want more areas allocated for development and agriculture, however the local parliament and environmental non-governmental organizations have highlighted their concerns if such policy were implemented.6

The district governments and the private sector have advocated for the expansion of agricultural commodities—particularly oil palm—by proposing the conversion of Forest Estate areas to APL. Most agricultural commodities such as oil palm can only be legally planted in APL areas. The provincial government of West Kalimantan reports that the total area of oil palm currently planted reaches 880,000 hectares, making it the largest agricultural commodity in the province (Bappeda 2013:42). Furthermore, it is estimated that more than 4.9 million hectares of land is allocated or is undergoing some type of oil palm concession process (Yuntho et al. 2013:27). Due to the income generated through taxes and sales revenue, it is in the interest of the district government and private sector to obtain more land to be allocated as APL.

The oil palm sector is recognized as a major source of GHG emissions (Sheil et al. 2009, Bappeda 2013:42). The Local Action Plans for Reducing GHG emissions, the primary government document attempting to achieve West Kalimantan’s GHG mitigation goals, acknowledges this problem (Bappeda 2013:38). However, mitigation plans in the Local Action Plans for Reducing GHG emissions do not provide mechanisms to tackle the massive emissions attributed to the conversion of forest for oil palm expansion (ibid:43). The current strategy to address this issue is to reduce the amount of Forest Estate being converted to APL.


The case studies from Brazil and Indonesia reflect a wide range of societal issues that are ill-defined and that depend on subjective political judgments for resolutions (Rittel and Webber 1973:160). This relates to Campbell’s previously mentioned “wicked problem” concept (1996). Planning tools often do not become an instrument for action or change, but rather serve as an arena for contestation between economic growth objectives, social equity concerns and environmental trepidations (Campbell 1996, Bulkeley 2006, Owens and Cowell 2010). Similarly, this is seen in the ZSEE process of Mato Grosso and the RTRWP of West Kalimantan, where zones of development and conservation are so heavily debated that neither side can reach a point of convergence.

Market rationality has steered economic and policy concepts in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia through neoliberal ideals over the last half-century. However, this rationality is challenged by social and environmental advocates, who trigger trickle-down effects in society towards better environmental stewardship. In both the ZSEE and RTRWP planning activities, various actors influence resource control through zoning processes within state-level administrative boundaries. All actors attempt to simplify and legitimize the control of resources for market, social equity, and environmental interests. Actors argue that they try to take into consideration a multitude of interests even when there is only one that prevails (Acselrad 2002:173). In the case of Mato Grosso, the agriculture sector and state parliament argue that they passed their version of the ZSEE in the best interest of the economy of the state, even though agricultural expansion was evident. In West Kalimantan, the oil palm sector and executive government wanted more land for development as well.

These mapping processes start a new locus of negotiation where conflict over access and rights to resources emerge. The expected outcome is for a convergence of interests placed within a policy tool of delineation to develop, where actors compromise their standpoint in order to reach some sort of result. However, territorial land-use planning is often argued to be a “utopian fiction in practice” because of the complexities of representing social relationships and narratives of people’s interaction with the land (Vandergeest and Peluso 1995:389). Thus, as seen in Mato Grosso and West Kalimantan, the bureaucratic processes and the multitude of government institutions result in deadlock. Unfortunately, development activities do not stop, and continue without agreed upon plans and common objectives (such as the climate change mitigation attempts) in place.


There is very little evidence that climate change mitigation and adaptation policies are being integrated in the highly political land-use planning activities by the subnational governments of Mato Grosso, Brazil and West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Though climate change policies are being made at the state level, they appear to be excluded from major planning activities of the state. There is thus major uncertainty regarding the attainability of climate change commitments being made by heads of state of each country. The differing interests involved in these land-use planning and zoning processes have caused there to be no convergence of economic, social and environmental objectives, as shown by the inability for the ZSEE of Mato Grosso and RTRWP of West Kalimantan to be enacted.


This research was made possible by the generous support of the Tropical Resources Institute Endowment Fellowship at Yale University, the Council of Southeast Asian Studies Research Grant from the Ford Foundation at Yale University, the World Resources Institute, and the Tinker Field Research Grant at Yale University. The author would like to thank all the individuals who agreed to be interviewed for this research project and the Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV) for their logistical support during the author’s field visit in Brazil. The author would also like to thank comments on other versions of this paper from Dr. Amity Doolittle and Dr. Robert Bailis at Yale University.


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Prasodjo, R. 2014. Land-Use Planning for Climate Change? Subnational Case Studies from Brazil and Indonesia. Tropical Resources Bulletin 32-33, 50-55.

  1. Rauf Prasodjo is a Yale University Research Fellow at Tokyo University. His research interests include global forest governance and sustainable agriculture practices. Rauf previously worked as a Research Analyst at the World Resources Institute in Jakarta, Indonesia and as an international reporter at the Voice of America News in Washington D.C. Rauf holds a Master of Environmental Management degree from the Yale University and Bachelor of Arts in Economics and International Studies from Kenyon College.

  2. Based on an interview with Michele Sato, Professor at the Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso conducted by author on July 4, 2013.

  3. Based on an interview with Irene Dowarte of the Environmental non-governmental organization Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV) conducted by author on May 31, 2013.

  4. Based on an interview with Hermawansyah of Yayasan Gemawan and Deman Hura of LPS-Air conducted by author on July 10, 2013.

  5. According to Forestry Decree SK.259/ Kpts-II/2000.

  6. Based on an interview with Syarif Izhar Azhuri of the Provincial Parliament of West Kalimantan conducted by author on July 12, 2013.