President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s 11,000-kilometer journey to Copenhagen this week, where he will attend the UN climate change summit, is certainly among the most important international visits of his political career.
It’s freezing on the streets of the Danish capital, but temperatures will be far higher inside of the Bella Centre where over 20,000 are attending the final days of these critical intergovernmental talks.
“Copenhagen is our time to seize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to launch the post-2012 climate agreement”, the President said at September’s UN General Assembly in New York.
Having hosted the Bali meeting two years ago where world leaders paved the way to the so-called “Bali Roadmap”, it is widely expected that Indonesia will play a pivotal role in encouraging other developing countries to support measures for a new global agreement.
With significant rifts emerging between rich and poor countries threatening to sabotage progress, SBY takes to Europe some much-welcomed enthusiasm for combating the global climate change crisis.
“Remember: We can negotiate about the climate, but we cannot negotiate with the climate. We cannot ask the climate for more time,” the President passionately told the UN.
Mindful of how close the Bali talks were to failure with international consensus only achieved in the final hours, SBY does not want to return to Indonesia empty handed. He shares the strong desire held by the many other world leaders attending this summit that some kind of a formula for success has to be found.
Arguably, the President has put his reputation on the line in putting forward Indonesia’s ambitious pledge to reduce its greenhouse emissions by at least 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.
He knows the public’s awareness of dire scientific forecasts of irreversible global warming is bound to increase, and that expectations of politicians to fix the problem will inevitably grow. And he realizes that, with a worrying rise in the number of climate change impacts directly affecting Indonesia, these talks must translate into tangible action.
Indonesia’s impressive commitments — which rise to over 40 percent reductions with the right international support — give SBY considerable added credibility in Copenhagen.
But he must overcome many tough obstacles if he is to persuade some of his fellow developing world leaders to set similar targets.
With the poorer nations still a long way off from the degree of prosperity enjoyed by developed countries, it is hard to expect them to spend their limited resources on climate change.
And it is a particularly bitter pill for them to swallow when they consider that the whole problem has been caused by industrial countries from decades ago.
Indeed, there are many representatives from the developing world who simply don’t see climate change as their responsibility.
As a leader of one of the poorer nations, SBY goes to Copenhagen sensitive to these concerns. So he is pushing for the UN climate talks to adopt the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”.
He believes that all nations must share the burden of finding solutions with developing nations taking take the lead, but developing nations also seriously doing their part.
Indonesia’s standing in Copenhagen is further enhanced by recent measures that it has announced in the establishment of the National Climate Change Action Plan.
Amid the all-too-common rhetoric of gloom and doom, SBY’s belief that a meaningful accord will come out of Copenhagen is refreshing.
But he warned unless a new agreement could be achieved, the sea level could rise by 1.5 meters in 2100 in addition to threats of prolonged dry or rainy seasons resulting from climate change.
“We wish to open a new historic page in Copenhagen with an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol,” he said shortly before leaving for Europe.
Climate scientists point to temperatures having already increased by 4 degrees making the sea level rise by 80 centimeters. If this condition is ignored, they predict that 30 to 40 million people in the country could fall victim to the impacts of global warming manifested by floods and other natural disasters.
Climate deliberations being made on the other side of the world matter greatly to Indonesia, as the President know all-too-well.
Copenhagen must signal agreement to go forward with a new, legally binding treaty to tackle the threat of climate change.
But even if this is achieved, Indonesia faces a host of hurdles, powerful regional governments that often clash with the central government, a deeply entrenched bureaucracy and little history of conservation. Business as usual is no longer an option for any country, not least Indonesia.
Jonathan Wootliff leads the Corporate Accountability practice at the consulting firm, Reputation Partners. He specializes in sustainable development and in building of productive relationships between companies and NGOs. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org