The Jakarta Post
Amid the catastrophic impacts of the coronavirus, good news is coming from Indonesian forests. The government’s efforts to reduce deforestation and forest fires have paid off. Indonesia has secured a grant of US$103.8 million from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) for avoiding 20.3 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from 2014 to 2016. The country has also received a $56 million grant from Norway for reducing deforestation and carbon emissions.
Notwithstanding the amount, the grants are proof of the international community’s trust in Indonesia, which has been struggling to protect its remaining forests and the environment amid expansion of the agro-industry sector, such as palm oil.
Indonesia has been the world’s largest palm oil producer for more than a decade, but lagged behind in curbing deforestation and forest fires thanks in part to slash and burn practices in the sector.
In 2015, the country saw the worst-ever fire disaster and haze crisis that caused Rp 221 trillion ($15 billion) in economic losses to the country, an amount equal to 1.9 percent of its gross domestic product that year. The fires, which damaged 2.6 million hectares of land and forests, claimed 24 lives and caused hundreds of thousands of people to suffer from respiratory problems.
The government has come under pressure both at home and from the international community to control the fires and enforce the law against those behind the land and forest fires. The law may have been enforced, but corporations and individuals convicted for starting fires have not paid the fines.
The country’s poor handling of deforestation has even led the European Union to list palm oil as the only commodity to be capped over concerns of deforestation. Indonesia is challenging this nontariff barrier at the World Trade Organization.
Despite controversy in forest loss calculation, unresolved legal processes against forest burners and the dispute over palm oil, records show that deforestation is indeed declining in the country, while in other parts of the world forest and bush fires rage unabated.
A satellite data study by the University of Maryland reported that Indonesia lost 324,000 hectares of primary forest, just behind Brazil (1.36 million ha) and Democratic Republic of the Congo (475,000 ha) last year. Researchers have attributed the decline in forest loss to successful forest protection policies after the 2015 disaster.
The government has issued several policies related to forest governance since the fire and haze crisis. Among the achievements were the moratorium on new oil palm plantations and the establishment of the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG).
It may be too early to cheer on the government. And there is no assurance that the grants will be wisely spent to protect the forests and the environment.
But the nation can seize the moment to remember that a crisis, no matter how hard it is, if all elements really put mind and resources to it, can be overcome. The people and the private sector surely will support a fair and accountable government.
The same spirit should prevail in the ongoing battle against the coronavirus.