Indonesian President Vows to Protect Rainforest

JAKARTA, Indonesia, October 4, 2011 (ENS) – Indonesia’s President has pledged to dedicate the last three years of his administration to safeguarding his nation’s rainforests, a pledge that received broad support at a conference in Jakarta.

“We must change the way we treat our forests so that they are conserved even as we drive hard to accelerate our economic growth,” said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (Photo courtesy CIFOR)

“I do not want to later explain to my granddaughter Almira that we, in our time, could not save the forests and the people that depend on it,” he said. “I do not want to tell her the sad news that tigers, rhinoceroses, and orangutans vanished like the dinosaurs.”

Three sub-species of tiger once lived in Indonesia – the Bali tiger and the Javan tiger are both extinct. Only the critically endangered Sumatran tiger remains, with about 300 animals left in the wild on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

The Forests Indonesia Conference, hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research, CIFOR, last week provided a platform for 1,000 leaders of Indonesia’s government, business community and civil society, as well as foreign donors, to discuss the future of the country’s forests, the third-largest tropical forest in the world.

“I will continue my work and dedicate the last three years of my term as President to deliver enduring results that will sustain and enhance the environment and forests of Indonesia,” Yudhoyono said. “If it weren’t for the benefits that our forests provide, then our way of life, our people, our economy, our environment and our society would be so much the poorer.”

Indonesia is losing about 1.1 million hectares of its forests each year, according to Ministry of Forestry data. Most of the loss is due to unsustainable logging that includes the conversion of forests to plantations for palm oil and the pulp and paper industry.

Logging road in East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, 2007 (Photo by Wakx)

It is also partly due to large-scale illegal logging, which is estimated to cost Indonesia about $4 billion annually, according to Ministry of Environment data.

In his speech, the president reiterated a 2009 pledge to cut Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 41 percent from business-as-usual levels by 2020.

And on September 26, Yudhoyono issued a decree with a national action plan to reduce greenhouses gas emissions. These goals can only be achieved by safeguarding the country’s forests.

The President has called a halt to new logging concessions. In May, the government issued a two-year moratorium on new concessions.

Globally, deforestation accounts for up to 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. But in Indonesia that figure is up to 85 percent, making the country one of the highest greenhouse gas emitters in the world.

Logging crew in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, 1992 (Photo by Chua Kang Ng)

Norway has committed up to US$1 billion to help Indonesia meet its emissions reduction target. “Norway is proud of the partnership with Indonesia,” Norwegian Environment and International Development Minister Erik Solheim said at the conference.

“We strongly encourage other countries to support the work that President Yudhoyono and the government of Indonesia is doing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Solheim said. “President Yudhoyono is now one of the foremost statesmen leading the international fight to combat climate change.”

The President’s pledge received widespread support from conference attendees.

“I am pleased to be here at the Forests Indonesia Conference because the UK recognizes the importance of climate change in Indonesia,” said Jim Paice, UK Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

“We are pleased to be supporting the government of Indonesia’s work to meet its internationals climate change commitments,” he said.

Forest industry watchers project that up to US$30 billion could flow from developed to developing countries each year to help facilitate reductions in deforestation.

Released formerly captive orangutans, Lamandau Wildlife Reserve, Central Kalimantan, site of a proposed community carbon trading demonstration site for REDD+. (Photo by Rare Planet)

Indonesia may be able to claim a share of these funds through REDD+, a global mechanism for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, as well as the conservation and sustainable management of forests, and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

Indonesia has REDD+ demonstration activities in various stages of development, and Indonesia has been an early participant in bilateral and multilateral initiatives to prepare for REDD+ implementation at the national level.

Expanding agricultural production is essential to guarantee food security and promote economic growth, but in the future, Indonesia could focus agricultural development on degraded land, rather than clearing rainforest to make way for plantations or developing carbon-rich peatland.

The government also could support agricultural intensification – increasing yields per hectare.

“While there are some ‘win-win’ opportunities to reconcile forest management to meet both global and domestic objectives, there will also be some trade-offs that will require leadership from government, business, and civil society to determine the best way forward for Indonesia in a manner that is transparent and fair,” said Frances Seymour, CIFOR director general.

Remote primary forest, East Kalimantan (Photo by Wakx)

President Yudhoyono called on Indonesia’s captains of industry to adopt more sustainable forests management practices.

“I call upon our business leaders, particularly those in the palm oil, pulp wood and mining sectors, to partner with us by enhancing the environmental sustainability of their operations,” the President said. “I ask you to join me in pledging to safeguard this national treasure for the sake of our children.”

Indonesia is receiving some help from the United States to conserve its forests on Kalimantan, the Indonesia part of the island of Borneo, which is shared with Malaysia.

The United States and Indonesia Thursday signed a debt-for-nature swap agreement under the U.S. Tropical Forest Conservation Act that will reduce Indonesia’s debt payments to the U.S. government over the next eight years by nearly $28.5 million. In return, the government of Indonesia will commit these funds to support grants to protect and restore the country’s tropical forests in Kalimantan.

Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, contains some of the world’s most remote and biologically-rich forests. There are up to 15,000 different flowering plants on Borneo and the island is home to a large number of treasured animal species such as orangutans, clouded leopards, and pygmy elephants.

This agreement, in partnership with World Wide Fund for Nature-Indonesia and The Nature Conservancy, will be the second debt-for-nature swap in Indonesia under the Act.

The first agreement was signed in 2009 and supports forest conservation activities on the island of Sumatra.

Both of these agreements contribute to the climate change and environment objectives of the U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership, said the U.S. State Department.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.