By the way ... The city man in the forest
It is not always easy to live in abundance. Sometimes we lose count of what we have. Ultimately, we don’t know what we have or what it means to us until we lose it.
This is evident in the case of a resource-rich country like Indonesia. Tapping fossil oil wells exhaustively led the country to an oil bonanza in the 1980s that fostered in prosperity during the Soeharto era. Those who were fond of him might still attribute the prosperity we had during his time to his iron grip. But no, he would not have appeared that strong if the country did not strictly control its oil wells that much, hence, just as in other large oil producers, heavy fuel subsidies were introduced.
It took a financial crisis and four presidents before the country realized that the oil honeymoon was well and truly over.
Now, as a relatively insignificant oil producer, Indonesia is among the top 10 gasoline guzzlers in the world, along with large economies like the US, Japan, China and Canada, according to the Earth Policy Institute. Indonesia consumes 6.3 billion gallons of gasoline annually, more than that of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.
But oil is not the only resource the country has and this is why citizens should not worry too much about a fuel subsidy reduction. According to the US’ International Energy outlook, we have the 14th largest natural gas reserves in the world and are the largest exporter of steam and thermal coal.
Our blessings also come with a challenge. Studies have found that deforestation and forest exploitation, as well as mining activities, might be more dangerous here than any other place in the world. Center for Forestry International Research (CIFOR) research shows that mangroves store more carbon than almost any other forests, which is released into the atmosphere when the mangrove forests are cleared. This may explain why the country is a large emitter despite being less industrialized than the other emitters.
Decentralization has increased access to exploiting resources. Forests become the easiest targets since the government is not well-informed about forest areas.
A World Bank report this year estimated that 70 to 80 percent of timber exports from Indonesia is from illegal logging. The government’s weak legal enforcement and maritime protection make it easy for timber products to be moved across borders.
Financial statistics may show that Indonesia is currently in great shape. But how much of this benefits local residents living around the forests and mines? How long will the forests last if the country keeps losing them to invisible hands that give nothing back to the people?
Sponsored by the Norway government, the construction of Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) regime is now taking place. The first year has revealed that the government lacks the ability to watch over the country’s natural treasures. And here we are only talking about primary forests and peatland.
It has emerged that the government revised its original forest map because, curiously, old but newly found permits emerged that negated the protected status of some areas.
Just like a city man in the forest, the rouge practices of companies that have occurred for decades appear like something new to the government, which has been slow in taking action against perpetrators.
These developments, of course, should not discourage efforts to create strong forest governance, which in the end would lead to better information on other resources. This is the only path to take to move forward. The strong governance should benefit not only certain groups or be leased for foreign interests, but most of all should benefit local communities and the country.
The country should appreciate what it has. Value it all, protect it all or even put a high price on it. The government could start by doing a thorough tally of all the forests and devise a plan to make them sustainable.
— Adisti Sukma Sawitri