Deforestation has caused Indonesia to become one of the world's top carbon dioxide (CO2) emitters, after the US and China, according to a recent World Bank study. In an effort to limit further environmental impact, Indonesia introduced a proposal last week to reduce emissions in developing countries.
The "Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation in Developing countries" (REDD) proposal was announced on October 25 at a two-day meeting on climate change in Bogor. Ministers representing 40 signatory states to the Kyoto Protocol met to discuss ways to tackle global warming.
The goal of the proposal is to stop deforestation so the remaining trees, particularly in countries with large remaining forests, can capture greenhouse gases. "Our forests trap tonnes of CO2 every day," said Minister of Forestry Malam Sambat Kaban on Tuesday.
With 120m hectares of forestland, Indonesia has the world's third-largest amount of remaining forest, after Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, according to the government, this is being destroyed at a rate of 1m ha per annum to legal and illegal logging and to make way for oil palm plantations. Ironically, in recent years the government has been trying to promote palm oil as an additive to make biofuels, an environmentally friendly alternative to hydrocarbons.
"We have reduced logging... and also intensified efforts to fight illegal logging," Kaban said. The government has also set aside 40m ha of protected forest, and said it is planning to plant 79m trees in November.
"We aim to get Indonesia greener as soon as we can and reduce forest degradation as much as possible," a forestry ministry spokesman said earlier this month.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on October 24 that developing nations must work harder to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Indonesia is arguing that rich countries should compensate poorer ones for protecting their rain forests from burning or logging. The president said, "Tropical rain forest countries should not have to shoulder the burden of opportunity costs alone."
Kaban said, "In Bengkulu, 80% of the forest is protected [...] where many precious minerals such as iron, gold and coal are found. But what will the world give us for protecting it?"
The government is hosting the conference in order to introduce REDD ahead of the 13th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held December 3 through 15. There the environment ministers of over 180 countries will meet to discuss a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, which is due to expire in 2012.
The Kyoto Protocol requires 36 industrialised nations to reduce their CO2 emissions by 5.4% from 1990 levels by 2012. The protocol has not been ratified by either Australia or the US. Developing countries, including Indonesia, which ratified the protocol in 2004, do not have to reduce emission levels.
Indonesian officials are hoping that REDD will be included in any agreement that would replace Kyoto. According to local media, the government has already recruited 10 other developing countries in support of the proposal: Brazil, Congo, Colombia, Peru, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Gabon, Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kaban said that any incentives for forest protection should take into account the potential economic losses to local people if they stop exploiting the forest.
"A cubic meter of meranti tree wood, for example, is priced at $150. A hectare of land could produce 70 cubic meters of meranti timber. The reward must consider this," Kaban said.
Still heavily reliant on its natural resources, Indonesia must look for ways to protect its environment and offset the impact of development. The government appears eager to find ways for developing countries to protect their environments and natural resources while sacrificing as little opportunity for growth and investment as possible.
New laws and methods for enforcement need to be drawn up and implemented to ensure that corporations are following the rules. This will take time and a strong commitment from the government. Yudhoyono said multinationals from developed countries should play a greater role in both reforestation and the prevention of deforestation.
Indonesia could lead the way in finding a compromise between businesses, economic growth in developing countries and preserving the environment. If it succeeds, the stage could be set for truly sustainable development.