Will Indonesia's next president maintain its climate commitments?

by Fidelis E. Satriastanti | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 12:30 GMT

A resident tries to extinguish fire on the outskirt of Pekanbaru in Indonesia's Riau province on June 19, 2013. REUTERS/Azwar

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Experts are cautiously optimistic that the next president has little to gain by abandoning emissions reductions promises

JAKARTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) ­– Indonesia’s widely publicised commitment to cut carbon emissions is likely to be maintained by its next president, an environmental law expert says, even as activists push for long-term protection for the country’s forests and greater recognition of the conservation efforts of forest people.

At the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh in 2009, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced Indonesia’s commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent on its own by 2020, and by 41 percent with sufficient international help. The president is due to leave office after elections scheduled for July 9.

Despite initial criticism from Indonesian activists who felt that their government was offering too much in comparison to developed nations that failed to meet their commitments to cut emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, Indonesia’s goal was lauded by the international community and attracted support from developed nations through investments in REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) programmes.

The most prominent support came in the form of a $1 billion REDD+ agreement between Indonesia and Norway in 2010 which included a moratorium on logging for two years, which came into effect in 2011. The emission cuts targets were made legally binding the same year through a Presidential Instruction, although in theory this could be rescinded by an incoming president.

Yudhoyono recently urged his successor to continue his administration’s commitment, which he said had shown positive results in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Last year, I extended the (logging moratorium) policy until 2015. I hope my successor can prolong this moratorium,” said Yudhoyono, addressing the opening of the 2014 Forests Summit, held in Jakarta on May 5 and 6.

The president said that Indonesia had reduced the rate of deforestation from 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres) per year between 2003 and 2006 to 450,000-600,000 hectares (1.1 million-1.5 million acres) annually in 2011-13.

“We managed to reduce 211 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year from the business-as-usual projection,” Yudhoyono said, adding that four billion trees had been planted in the past four years.

TOO MUCH TO LOSE

Deni Bram, an environmental law expert at Jakarta’s Tarumanegara University, believes that Indonesia has too much to lose if the next president reneges on Yudhoyono’s environmental promises.

“The 26/41 (percent) commitment was already announced internationally. We (Indonesia) do not have to (cut our emissions) but it was seen as a bold move for that time and it had positive response from other nations. So, whoever the next president is, he must stay true to these globally committed targets. If not, then Indonesia will lose face in the international level,” Bram said.

However, Bustar Maitar, global head of Greenpeace International’s Indonesia forest campaign, said his organisation would like to see long-term protection conferred upon the country’s remaining peatland forests, which currently fall under the logging moratorium, before Yudhoyono’s successor is inaugurated as president in October.  

“If it can’t be achieved in his last six months then it means homework for (the) new government, because (the) moratorium ends in 2015,” said Maitar. He sees extending the moratorium as the first test of the new administration’s commitment to protecting Indonesia’s forests.

Indonesia has roughly 20 million hectares of peatlands, the largest area in the world. Peatland clearance is the biggest contributor to the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, as the land is vulnerable to fire when cleared or drained.

Maitar says that full protection of peatlands is the longterm solution to the problem of forest fires. He points out that Indonesia has managed to become the world’s tenth-largest economy, according to the World Bank, even while implementing the logging moratorium.

“It means that the new government can really push for (a) no-deforestation economy (and achieve) economic growth without deforestation,” he said.

LINK TO SUSTAINABLE GROWTH

The chief of the newly established REDD+ agency, Heru Prasetyo, said he was cautiously optimistic that the next administration would continue the current government’s policies, as the REDD+ project helps address both environmental issues and economic growth targets.

“(REDD+ is) about humans and people. It talks about sustainable growth with equity,” he said.

“Anything can happen” under a new administration, Prasetyo acknowledged. “But I am also optimistic because no government is against development and growth.”

His agency has signed memorandums of understanding with five provinces and 29 districts to implement REDD+ projects, Prasetyo said, and has a goal of signing agreements with 11 provinces this year.

However, Arie Rompas, head of the Central Kalimantan chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (known locally as WALHI), warned that REDD+ should not exclude the concerns and initiatives of people who have been living in forests for many generations. Central Kalimantan has been a pilot project for the Norway-Indonesia agreement since 2010.

“If they just concentrate on carbon, then local people and communities will be neglected. Forests for Dayak people (a tribe native to Kalimantan) are not about trees. It’s also talking about culture and society,” explained Rompas.

He said that REDD+ projects sometimes miss their goals because investors give money up front but programmes do not include effective forest conservation, making them more like carbon trading than true emission reduction schemes.

“For instance, they’re paying to build roads, which obviously do not relate to reducing emissions. There are claims for public participation but in reality people only attended meetings. You can’t really call that participation because they were never asked for their opinion,” Rompas said.

He believes that the government should do more to understand local people’s own conservation efforts in the forests and include these in REDD+ projects rather than just requiring them to follow plans devised by the authorities.

“People are starting to do ....adaption,” Rompas said. “They built beje (small ponds) so that they’ll have water in dry season or they would plant other (crops) such as rattan or honey as (an) alternative livelihood.

“You can’t force them to change the way they live. They know what to do to survive.”

Fidelis E. Satriastanti is a Jakarta-based writer with an interest in climate change issues.

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Will Indonesia's next president maintain its climate commitments?

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