Indonesia — The Federal Government has nominated climate change as a top focus of the APEC summit. But one of the Government’s key climate change initiatives is under fire from the very country which benefits from it, Indonesia.
Indonesia is regularly accused of being the world’s third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases because of the vast fires across its deforested peat lands every year.
The country’s Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar has told ABC radio’s PM program that Australia’s $200 million Global Initiative on Forests and Climate “will not solve too many problems”.
Jakarta regularly makes it into the top 10 lists of the world’s most polluted cities. But it is actually not urban development which is to blame for rocketing Indonesia up the rankings of the world’s worst greenhouse gas offenders.
The vast annual fires in Kalimantan’s deforested peat lands are to blame for that.
Wetlands International places Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions behind only the United States and China because of the vast tracts of deforested land where carbon-rich peat decays and catches fire every year, blanketing much of South East Asia in a choking haze.
It is a real problem in search of a real solution and back in March, Indonesia warmly welcomed Australia’s $200 million Global Initiative on Forests and Climate, which is aimed fighting climate change by preserving the world’s forests.
In July, $10 million of that money was committed to developing forest protection projects in Indonesia.
But now Indonesia’s Environment Minister, Rachmat Witoelar, is questioning what in reality the scheme can achieve.
“Maybe if it is upscaled even more because it does not solve too many problems because $200 million divided into so many areas over five years does not give a lot of forest aid,” he said.
He would like Australia to contribute more.
Experts argue that forest sustainability programs like the Australian initiative are challenged by the local reality that the forests are worth more dead than alive. Timber and palm oil profits are much greater and easier to grasp than vague notions of sustainability.
Indonesia’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla says international alliance is needed to save the forests.
“There are international operations to destroy the forest. Clearly for economic reasons and to improve [there] should be international cooperation to do that,” he said.
Professor Emil Salim is the father of Indonesia’s environmental movement and a senior adviser to Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
He says that with Indonesia’s current population of 230 million expected to grow by another 100 million in the next 30 years, Indonesia needs very good reasons not to clear land. And local people, he says, need good economic reasons to keep the forests standing.
“Why is Australia not bold enough to really translate the action into getting the technology of Australia transferred to the developing country?” he asked.
“And stop talking about $200 million, $10 million. It’s not money. It’s the capacity of a new development by raising the value added of the forest.”
Indonesia’s real forests debate kicks off in December in Bali, when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change searches for a successor to Kyoto, which decided against awarding carbon credits for what has been dubbed “avoided deforestation”.
In any new Kyoto-style international treaty, Indonesia wants access to the world’s multi-billion dollar carbon credit market not just by planting trees but by keeping them.