The New Year has arrived. And 2010 has come with bigger challenges than ever for everyone and society as a whole when it comes to confronting the risk of catastrophic climate change.
At the end of last year, the Conference of Parties (COP15) – the largest gathering ever held on climate change – brought about a bitter solution, with countries present agreeing to merely taking note of a political agreement known as the interim Copenhagen Accord.
The Accord, a 12-paragraph statement of intention, mentions a global ambition to keep the average global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius. However, Professor John Sterman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) notes that the average global temperature may increase by 3.9 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100.
This would mean that up to 170 million more people suffering from severe coastal floods, 550 million more at risk of starvation, and up to 50 percent of species facing extinction, according to the Stern econo-mic review.
While we hope that COP-16 in Mexico City will succeed in securing a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement, it is now up to governments, the private sector, organizations and individuals to address climate change.
Many scientific and technical documents state that it is still possible for developed and developing worlds to grow their economies in the 21st century while at the same time avert catastrophic consequences caused by climate change.
Halting the dire consequences of climate change is a long-term undertaking, but the first steps must be taken by governments currently in power.
For instance in Indonesia, it is certainly a good year for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his government to create and consolidate policies, incentives and actions that would reduce the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Last year, SBY pledged to reduce the country’s GHG emissions by 26 percent and prioritised three out of 15 action points in a “100 days” program focusing on climate, energy, the environment and land use.
However these action points need to be elaborated on further to provide clear direction that will enable us to halt and reverse the loss, degradation of forests and peat lands as well as boost energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Deforestation and forest and peat land degradation contribute significantly to the GHG emissions through the expansion of the forestry industry (e.g. logging, pulp wood plantation), agriculture (e.g. oil palm plantation), infrastructure development, settlement and mining.
Key regulations that are effectively enforced are required to halt destructive and illegal logging, prevent forest and land fires, preserve the remaining protected forests, and deal with the complexity of land use and spatial planning.
Domestic demand in the energy sector has been increasing faster than the average population growth.
A large amount of this demand was met by fossil fuels, contributing significantly to Indonesia’s 6-percent-a-year GHG emissions growth rate.
Providing policies and incentives to break the link between energy services and primary energy production is essential, such as prioritizing large-scale energy efficiency measures (getting more energy services per unit of energy used).
Policies and incentives are also needed to promote the growth of low-emissions technologies such as geothermal, solar PV, micro-hydro, wind and bio-energy, but within a set of environmental and social constraints to ensure their sustainability; and displacing high-carbon coal with low-carbon gas as a “bridging fuel”.
Population pressures as well as increasing consumption levels locally and overseas drive GHG emissions, often exacerbated by poor governance and inadequate land-use planning.
Therefore, besides involving different sectors and the government, a wide range of influential actors and key stakeholders need to be encouraged to contribute to the President’s pledge and program.
The private sector, for instance, needs a clear signal from the government (e.g. credible regulations) and the market (e.g. benefits for producing commodities derived from sustainable practices) that it must invest in climate solutions, which eventually can be justified to shareholders.
Companies can be encouraged to be part of sustainable development initiatives, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
Although voluntary, this type of initiatives can eventually drive demand for responsibly produced commodities while gradually address environmental and social concerns.
Overall, there are plenty of climate change mitigation opportunities business can explore. Involving the private sector will not only contribute to mitigating climate change but also increase national energy security and economic efficiency.
Different actors including the government, private sector and individuals can contribute separately but have to work together to achieve substantive GHG emission reductions.
Examples of these collaborative steps already exist at the subnational level. Platforms initiated through the Sumatra Governors Declaration, the Heart of Borneo and Papua Governor’s pledge may be used as a starting point – carefully laying out a sustainable development platform addressing the need for economic development as well as environmental protection.
In the end, our future depends on all actors involved making critical decisions to achieve a low-emission economy consistent within a certain time line.
Now is the time to advance the exploration and implementation of climate solutions that will help Indonesia’s economy and its people.
The writer is program director of climate & energy at WWF-Indonesia and adjunct lecturer at Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy.
He can be reached at [email protected]