The Jakarta Post
The UN Climate Summit in New York recently was the first climate conference attended by the heads of states in five years, preceded by worldwide marches involving around half a million people.
For Indonesia, above all else it reaffirmed that countries with immense rainforests have a pivotal role to play in the fight against global warming.
The conference announced a declaration on forests that vowed to halt global forest losses by 2030 and halve it by the end of the decade. Major companies, such as Cargill and Asia Pulp & Paper also signed the declaration. The proponents of this initiative believe that protecting forests can cut the same amount of carbon emissions as would be cut if all vehicles were taken off the roads.
Indonesia has the third largest rainforest and one of the most carbon-rich peat swamps in the world. The loss of our forest and peat lands will inevitably take its toll on the planet. With this in mind, Indonesia is unequivocally determined to safeguard its forests.
Our President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono proclaimed the target of slashing carbon emissions by 26 percent in 2020 or 41 percent with international assistance, and putting a brake on deforestation constitutes the bulk of this goal.
Our government enacted a moratorium on new forest clearances in 2011, which has been extended into 2015. The government has also vigorously taken part in the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) initiative.
We have signed the letter of intent with Norway on REDD+ partnership and have also established a national REDD+ Agency.
Notwithstanding our hard work, there are some who contend that the loss of forests in Indonesia is on the rise. Research says Indonesia has now overtaken Brazil as the country with the highest rate of deforestation in the world. We cannot sweep such reports under the rug. It should be something that we reflect upon, despite everything we have done there is still much room for improvement. We cannot rest on our laurels.
The central government particularly needs to work closer and provide more technical assistance to the local government to better enforce and monitor the forest moratorium.
Saving forests is not only ecologically altruistic for 100 years to come but it is also a lucrative investment today.
It should also be a wake-up call for the international community. Scapegoating countries with high deforestation rates will not make the problem go away.
There are those who decry deforestation in developing countries while being oblivious to historical deforestation in developed countries to support their industrialization in the past.
We should not be completely flabbergasted when people in poor and developing countries do the same thing today.
Therefore, the most formidable challenge that we have to overcome is the notion that building our economy and protecting our forests is a Catch-22 predicament. Because the climate nightmare always seems so distant from where we are now, it is imperative to show that saving forests is not only ecologically altruistic for 100 years to come but it is also a lucrative investment today.
To this end, the international community can and should grant more financial incentives for forest preservation. It is regrettable that there are not many countries who seek to follow Norway's laudable footsteps in funding the REDD+ initiative.
There were pledges of US$2.3 billion in assistance to cope with climate change from various countries at the summit, but that number falls short of what is needed, which is at least around $10 billion. If the international community truly believes that deforestation is a global menace then a global, concrete effort to better reward forest preservation is indispensable.
The private sector should also develop its business without jeopardizing the environment. For instance, palm oil has often been blamed for endangering the forests, but there are ways to produce palm oil sustainably.
Newer varieties of palm, generating double the usual yield, can be utilized to quench the appetite for opening up new areas, and instead of converting forests into plantations, we can instead harness 14-million hectares of degraded land in Kalimantan, most of which are likely to be suitable for palm oil production.
Our goal of combating deforestation does not have to be accomplished at the expense of boosting our palm oil output.
Next year will be a make or break moment for the global fight against climate change. The climate conference in Paris is set to adopt a new, legally binding agreement. Skepticism lurks as the world leaders have often failed to walk the talk on this matter.
To turn the tide, we really need evidence to showcase that safeguarding our forest along with the environment and building our economy are two sides of the same coin.
With support from the international community and the corporates, Indonesia can champion forest protection without sacrificing its development and could very well be the force for change that we have all been yearning for.
The writer works at the Indonesian Foreign Ministry.
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