Challenges await peatland agency head
The Jakarta Post
Things are looking up for the nation. We withstood the Jan. 14 terror attack in Jakarta with a professional response from the police and measured public reaction, unlike the panic that so often rewards terrorists, and meanwhile cases of ethical political misconduct are facing public disapproval.
And steadily, the government is taking control of our concerns by appointing better people to high positions of responsibility. Starting with Teten Masduki as the Presidential Office chief and Johan Budi as presidential spokesman, President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo has elevated people of impeccable integrity to give his government strong credibility.
The latest one is another encouraging expression of the President's will to make this nation a better place. If his previous appointments strengthened the political ecosystem, the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) provides a strong step forward in strengthening the natural ecosystem.
The appointment of Nazir Foead as BRG head is a clear signal that we intend to defend our forests and our air by drastically limiting the risks of forest fires and haze occurring. This in effect is a clear follow-up to the Paris Agreement that commits the nations of the world to the curtailment of climate change.
In his address to open the COP21 Paris Climate Conference, President Jokowi stated that Indonesia was able to reduce emissions by 29 percent in 2030, or even 41 percent if Indonesia received international aid.
One clear commitment from Indonesia is to restore peatlands that were damaged by forest fires. He hopes to achieve this by actions such as the establishment of the BRG.
The agency will have several functions that regulate the use of peatland and evaluate issued forest usage rights. The President's choice for the BRG chief post, Nazir, is an environmental professional. Nazir will have an office close to the President and will report directly to him.
Overall the obstacles are serious despite the sincerity of the Jokowi administration.
A US$565 million lawsuit brought by Indonesia against a pulp and paper company was rejected by the Palembang District Court last month, dealing a blow to the government's efforts to punish those who set the fires to clear land. But the government is seeking further recourse.
In forest and land governance, Jokowi will implement the one map policy to support the forest moratorium and review permits to use peatlands and sustainable forests. Jokowi will also engage indigenous people to take care of forests. 'They are the ones who know the exact conditions,' said Jokowi.
Peat fires have made Indonesia suffer and the scale is huge. Dr Guillermo Rein from the London-based Grantham Institute has counted more than 12,000 fires, which have emitted more than 1.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent. (https://granthaminstitute.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/tackling-peat-fires-in-indonesia-haze-events-and-a-call-to-cop21/)
If peat fire emissions were considered, the Grantham data sates, Indonesia would be the fourth highest emitting country in the world. The widespread haze is choking the population and fauna every year.
According to the Grantham Institute, the Smoldering fires burn organic-rich deposits, primarily peatland, soils and coal. They are the largest and longest burning fires on earth.
We can reduce the threat by pursuing greater understanding and getting to grips with action in the field. COP21 in Paris has committed the world to mobilize the resources needed to lead the way against peatland emissions.
And President Jokowi is investing our human capital by appointing promising public officials such as Nazir, the initial head of the BRG.
The writer is founder of Intermatrix Communications, which advises the Indigenous People's Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN). This article has been updated to add attribution in paragraph 11, 12 and 13.
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