Opinion

Creating low-carbon prosperity

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has pledged to reduce Indonesia's carbon emissions by at least 26 percent by 2020, and potentially more, depending on international support. With this pledge, Indonesia has positioned itself at the forefront of efforts to combat global climate change.

Such reductions in carbon emissions must not conflict with Indonesia's efforts to improve living standards. So how can these two goals reconciled? The National Council on Climate Change (DNPI), the entity created by President Yudhoyono to coordinate climate change-related activities within Indonesia, is developing detailed answers to this crucial question.

The traditional thinking is that reducing carbon emissions must come at the expense of economic growth, with environmental financing and international assistance providing a form of welfare payment to compensate local communities for these losses. Such a viewpoint is too simplistic.

In fact, the scheme to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) that was mandated in the Bali Climate Change Conference two years ago can help move Indonesia onto a more sustainable path to low-carbon prosperity.

Low-carbon development will happen on the ground, at the provincial and district level. It is here that the infrastructure for successful REDD and low-carbon development efforts needs to be created. The DNPI is currently working with the provinces of Central Kalimantan and Jambi to create low-carbon development plans for their needs.

Central Kalimantan is responsible for 15 percent of Indonesia's total emissions, mostly from peat soils, forestry and agricultural practices. Aside from being unsustainable on a global scale, the activities that produce the most CO2 emissions in Central Kalimantan today are mostly negative for economic growth (like peat fires) or, like illegal logging, provide only minor and temporary gains to the people of Kalimantan. In many cases alternative economic activities will be more beneficial to local communities. Potential activities here include aquaculture, sustainable forestry and eco-tourism.

Creating this low carbon prosperity requires solving various institutional problems which constrain economic choices today. For example, an important driver of current deforestation is that palm oil companies are often converting forest lands (rather than already degraded land) for plantation use due to the land tenure issues associated with already deforested land. Some 1.9 million hectares of degraded land in Central Kalimantan could be converted to palm and other plantations - with positive economic and environmental benefits - but land tenure conflicts and other social issues prevent this. Addressing these land tenure and spatial planning issues will be crucial in supporting low-carbon economic growth.

Other new institutions will be needed to monitor carbon emissions and manage future financing flows for REDD and REDD+ schemes to work, ensuring that these funds are used in a fair, transparent and efficient manner to support local communities most affected by these changes and help tackle constraints to economic growth such as infrastructure and education. New mechanisms will be needed to engage local communities and ensure that they see tangible benefits from this low-carbon development.

The good news is that designing these mechanisms is now a global effort, and we are learning from developments in countries like Brazil and Guyana, as well as Indonesian efforts like the Rehabilitation and Revitalization of the Ex-Mega Rice Project Area, and the Kalimantan Forest and Climate Partnership in Central Kalimantan.

With Brazil's recent announcement that it will reduce its emissions by 36 percent to 39 percent below its "business as usual" 2020 levels, and the increased pledges by Japan, Norway, Russia and several European countries to reduce their emissions from 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels, the likelihood of a strong political consensus on emissions cuts is growing. But once this is achieved, the focus will quickly move from "how much" to "how".

Concrete policies and actions are needed from all countries if a globally acceptable successor to the Kyoto Protocol is to be found. By developing low-carbon growth strategies in provinces such as Central Kalimantan and Jambi, our hope is that Indonesia can provide a part of the answer, and help set the world on a sustainable path that ensures continued economic growth but with less greenhouse gas emissions.

The writer is the Head of the Secretariat of the National Council on Climate Change.

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