Road to Copenhagen: Understanding Indonesia’s emission cuts inside out

Road to Copenhagen: Understanding Indonesia’s emission cuts inside out

8 December 2009

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Indonesia —

On this second day of two weeks of negotiations at the UN Climate Conference, it is crucial for an emerging economy like Indonesia to fully understand how it is planning to contribute to climate solutions.

With some 20,000 participants involved and the rest of the world observing closely, the 15th Session of the Conference of Parties (COP-13) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will hopefully result in a stronger global climate agreement.

Regardless of what happens in Copenhagen, Indonesia will need to come up with an action plan at the domestic level to reduce green house gas (GHG) emissions for its own benefit and the survival of the nation and its people.

On Sept. 25, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono stated in a speech to G20 leaders that his government was devising a policy to cut GHG emissions by 26 percent by 2020 from “business as usual” (BAU) levels. He expressed confidence that, with international support, Indonesia could cut emissions by as much as 41 percent.

The policy would mix stepping up investment in the energy sector, especially to boost energy efficiency and renewable energy, as well as addressing emissions from deforestation and changes in land use, including from forest and land fires.

Since then, there have been attempts to assess the feasibility of this GHG emissions reduction target and provide important steps for Indonesia to reach this goal.

The launching of the Second National Communication (SNC) to the UNFCCC — a report presenting Indonesia’s progress in addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation — together with detailed information on Indonesia’s GHG emissions was one of those attempts.

The SNC recorded Indonesia’s GHG emissions were around 594,738 gigagrams (Gg) CO2e in 2000 without land use, land use change, forestry and peat fires (LULUCF), and had significantly increased to about 1,415,988 Gg CO2e with the inclusion of LULUCF.

According to the Environment Ministry, SNC will be used as a reference and basis for the formulation of policies and programs to reach the GHG emissions reduction target declared by the President.

The SNC listed several possible ways Indonesia could reduce its emissions: developing more geothermal and waste energy sources, increasing the efficiency of power plants, reducing illegal logging and restoring production forests.

None of these strategies, however, seems to touch upon the most effective way to reduce GHG emissions in this country.

For instance, many studies have reported that deforestation, peat degradation and forest and land fires are currently the biggest source of GHG emissions in Indonesia. Addressing these is key to reducing the country’s GHG emissions.

GHG emissions in this sector usually come from forests being converted to grow crops, build infrastructure, settlements and set up mining operations; illegal and destructive logging outside and inside legal forest concessions; and forest and land fires to clear space for some agricultural lands.

The government should focus primarily on conserving and using the remaining primary and high conservation value forests and terrestrial ecosystems in a sustainable manner.

This option needs to be prioritized since the deforestation rate still outweighs that of reforestation — the annual rate of deforestation stands at 0.8 to 1.09 million hectares compared to 0.3 to 0.6 million hectares for reforestation.

The government should also prioritize sustainable and responsible land use development, which will take the pressure off forests and peatlands by increasing productivity of existing crop farms and optimizing the use of abandoned lands.

With regards to oil palm, there is no need to expand plantations at the expense of forests and peatlands, if their productivity can be improved. Growth in demand could be met by improving yield on existing plantations by 1.5 to 2.0 percent per year, according to a study conducted by Unilever.

Even if agricultural development requires new lands, various statistics have indicated that between 7 and 14 million hectares of degraded, abandoned and/or idle lands may be used.

Not all of these lands are likely to be available and feasible for development. Hence, comprehensive analysis will be needed to ensure these lands can be sustainably and responsibly developed.

Some governors will have to take strong positions to contribute to this effort.

Last year, the governors of Sumatra’s 10 provinces, along with the Indonesian ministry of forestry, the environment, interior and public works, reached an agreement to restore critical ecosystems in Sumatra and protect areas with high conservation values.

These governors will also work together to develop ecosystem-based spatial plans that will serve as the basis for future development on the island.

Hence, central and local governments need to work together closely to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

In addition, fossil fuel combustions must factor into any strategy to reduce GHG emissions by 26 percent. Although GHG emissions from this sector are currently lower than land use, land use change and forestry, Indonesia’s GHG emissions from the fossil fuel industry are increasing relatively fast.

This is the result of energy consumption growing almost as fast as the country’s GDP, while at the same time GHG emissions in Indonesia have grown faster than GDP. Coal is increasingly used as a source of energy.

Various policy options can be explored, including adjusting pricing policy and undertaking reforms on electricity generation.

The current energy pricing so far has led to irresponsible use of energy sources, and to some extent, rendered some energy sources scarce. It has become difficult to use renewable energy or promote energy efficiency because of the competition with some highly subsidized energy sources, noticeably fossil fuels.

The right pricing policies combined with reforms in electricity generation could provide incentives for actions and investments promoting the use of clean (gas) and renewable resources as well as improve efficiency in power generation, transmission, distribution and consumption.

Overall, the launch of SNC is a first step forward. However, there is a long way to go to ensure Indonesia contributes successfully to mitigating climate change.

A clearer road map and substantial action are required for this country to reach its own goals.   

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