Today Indonesia officially welcomes President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Boediono to lead the country in overcoming its challenges during the next five years. One of the biggest challenges for the re-elected President is climate change.
According to the Indonesian National Coordinating Board for Disaster Management, in 2003 to 2005 alone, climate/hydrological-related disasters accounted for 1,429 cases or 53.3 percent of the total number of disasters that occurred in Indonesia.
Several different studies note that the costs of extreme climate events of the El Niño effect in 1982/1983 and 1997/1998 have reached US$500 million and $375 million, respectively; a shift in the beginning of the wet and dry seasons by one month has caused rice production to fall by 718 percent.
Sectors heavily affected by climate change include water, agriculture, forestry, marine/fisheries, health and infrastructure.
At the same time, the countrys contribution to the global level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is gradually increasing, especially if emissions from deforestation including peat land conversion and forest and land fires are taken into account.
In recent years, there has been a marked shift in Indonesias energy mix toward high-emissions sources. Most of the increased energy demand is met using coal, the most GHG-intensive fuel, and oil products for transport. This has contributed to approximately 2030 percent of Indonesias GHG emissions.
Therefore, dealing with climate challenge is no regular challenge; rather, it is a daunting task requiring enormous amount of efforts from different sectors, layers of government and various actors in the country.
The President showed he is serious in facing this challenge in a speech to G20 leaders on Sept. 25, in which he stated that the government was devising a policy that would cut emissions by 26 percent by 2020 from business as usual (BAU) levels.
The policy would be a mix of stepping up investment in the energy sector, especially to boost energy efficiency and renewable energy, and addressing emissions from deforestation and changes in land use, including from forest and land fires. The President expressed confidence that, with international support, Indonesia could cut emissions by as much as 41 percent.
He added that his administration is committed to changing the status of Indonesias forests a net emitter sector to a net sink sector by 2030.
Although this is encouraging to hear from the leader of one of the largest developing nations, it also raises many questions.
Can Indonesia achieve its aspirations of reducing emissions while maintaining economic growth? Who in the government will be tasked with making sure the targets are clearly defined, action plans are competently designed and the implementations are kept on track?
Will the environment ministry with the help of National Council on Climate Change be able to do this, given that 26 percent of the carbon footprint reduction crosses several departments, including agriculture, energy, transportation, forestry, marine and fisheries and public works? Or perhaps we need a new Climate Change Ministry?
Now is a good opportunity for the President to form a Cabinet that can build a solid action plan for each relevant ministry to achieve emissions reduction.
Cabinet plans and programs could include a readiness and execution plan for reducing emissions from deforestation and land-use changes across sectors; a clear action plan for advancing renewable and clean energy; a clear strategy to remove specific regulatory barriers to energy efficiency; and, more importantly, a preparedness strategy to cope with the impacts of climate change and more.
Each minister must then cascade the plans and programs down to his or her directorates general. The next step will be implementation, requiring that someone in each ministry be appointed a guardian angel to execute the plan.
This person should be a high-level senior official, such as a director general or someone at the executive level.
In the ministries governing sectors that contribute substantially to Indonesias carbon emissions and that have not already organized an environmental management system, there is a stronger need to form a new Level 1 official tasked with implementing emissions reduction plans.
This approach would ensure Presidents plan is mainstreamed in all ministries and Indonesia starts on a low-carbon economy pathway, thus maintaining economic development while ensuring emissions reduction.
Furthermore, the new Environmental Management Act, passed by Parliament on Sept. 8, which will greatly increase the workload for the incoming environment minister, also provides a good starting point for achieving the Presidents goals.
The new Act gives the environment minister a stronger mandate to oversee and coordinate sound environmental management with a sufficient budget, implement techniques to prepare for environment-related disasters and find innovative solutions.
The current budget allocated to environmental protection in Indonesia is a mere 0.11 percent of the national one. China, a country many believe does not make much effort for environmental protection, is making big changes. Chinas environmental preservation budget allocation is close to 4 percent of its national budget; Swedens is 3 percent, Malaysias 2 percent and Australias 1 percent. In monetary units, Malaysias budget is 6.6 times bigger than ours; Chinas is 173 times.
Appointing ministers and structuring the ministries of the incoming Cabinet, and later providing sufficient funds to support the reduction of GHG emissions, are early indicators of the Indonesian governments seriousness in addressing climate change.
Taking the lead in confronting climate change at global level, as shown by the President, can only be real if he and his Cabinet demonstrate to the world that they practice at home what the President preaches abroad.