Accuracy for Carbon:
Vision, Control and Cartography

To be presented at Opaque Media: A Workshop
April 6-7, 2018 at the University of California, Irvine

In 2011, following attempts to bring the long restive region of Borneo within the national fold, Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry and Ministry of Environment compared maps of primary forest to calculate areas eligible for a carbon financing scheme. The maps once laid on top of the other showed forest boundaries that did not match, stirring uncertainty about the future of climate finance in Indonesia. Indeed, carbon investors, led by resource extraction companies and the World Bank, claimed that not knowing where forests are made estimations of available carbon difficult. Repeated accusations of inaccuracy prompted President Joko Widodo (2014 –) to implement One Map Policy in 2016, an integrated “super databank for all of Indonesia’s spatial data” (World Bank 2016).  By 2019, 85 thematic maps detailing data related to hazard, risk and property will be digitized and layered on to a single base map.

Geodesists producing the base map told me how they addressed informational uncertainty regarding forest change and location – by accurate, real-time visualization of deforestation. They map forests in the present in order for forestry scientists to construct models of forests’ future states such that the difference between a scenario and the observed amount of carbon in forests is what is then sold (Mathews 2014). In effect, an accurate map today underpins a plausible carbon trade on the ground, providing information to carbon investors to calculate risk and reward from such transactions. But just how is the accuracy of a forest map known, especially one that gives rise to market action? How is it that their seamless match enabled the Indonesian government to claim accuracy crucial for the financialization of forest life? Drawing on fieldwork in Jakarta and Bandung, I propose for the unsettling of accuracy as simply a technical accomplishment and matter of correspondence, insofar as cartography is associated with the grey layers of maps.