U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made one of his most urgent pleas yet to stop climate change last month, calling climate change “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction” — and it was no coincidence he chose to do it in Indonesia.
The island nation is, as Secretary Kerry said, “one of the most vulnerable countries on Earth.” It is already prone to storms, floods, droughts, forest fires, and other extreme weather events, all of which could be exacerbated by climate change. A changing climate could also trigger catastrophic sea level rise that could contaminate Indonesia’s drinking and irrigation systems, and, in some of the worst case scenarios, swallow many of its islands whole.
Needless to say, those sorts of impacts would have dire consequences on the human beings living in Indonesia, the fourth most populous country on earth. However, the nation’s ecosystem would also be in grave danger. Indonesia harbors large reserves of carbon and biodiversity, and is home to the world’s third-largest rainforest and widespread peatlands, flooded soil that stores carbon from thousands of years ago.
But Indonesia also ranks among the top ten countries for its greenhouse gas emissions, 80 percent of which come from land-use change and forestry. The nation has experienced the greatest increase in forest cover loss from 2000 to 2012, with a high of 20,000 km2 per year (or about 4.9 million acres) between 2011 and 2012 (including harvest of timber and palm oil plantations). The main “driver” of deforestation in Indonesia is clearing for agriculture, particularly for palm oil plantations. Haze from slash and burn agriculture has caused respiratory infections, asthma and other illnesses in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia.
The good news is these emerging challenges have prompted Indonesia to recognize the dangers of climate change and its responsibility to act. In 2011, President Yudhoyono committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent below its current trajectory by 2020, or even 41 percent if the country receives international support. The bulk of emission decreases are to come from reducing deforestation and forest degradation.
To demonstrate that they are honoring their commitments, the country needs to collect and analyze data on greenhouse gas emissions following guidelines set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and submit this data in its National Communications for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Indonesia’s National Council on Climate Change (DNPI) asked EDF to help conduct training workshops for two of the agencies primarily responsible for the data, the Ministry of Forestry and Ministry of Agriculture. The workshops detailed each step involved in creating for the UN an inventory of the country’s emissions and removals of greenhouse gasses from agriculture, forestry and other land uses and the mitigation activities it has undertaken. These workshops also facilitated our collaboration and data-sharing capabilities with the Indonesian government, who worked with EDF’s Chief Natural Resource Economist, Ruben Lubowski, and colleagues from other non-governmental organizations to analyze the carbon reduction potential of different policies.
Accurately accounting for emissions will help Indonesia’s government demonstrate its progress toward reaching its reduction target by 2020, and could position the country to receive international funding for its efforts, including through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), a program that provides economic incentives to protect forests.
In 2010, Norway committed to a $1 billion agreement with Indonesia, with most of the funds contingent on verified emissions reductions from forest protection. Indonesia also prolonged its forest moratorium, which prohibits new licenses for clearing forests after 2011. On the private-industry end, a number of companies that source commodities from Indonesia recently have made their own commitments to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains, including Unilever, Wilmar, Kelloggs, and Asia Pulp and Paper.
This alignment between public and private sectors in protecting forests should be reinforced by good quality data, well-structured economic incentives and policies, and ambition. However, much work remains to be done on land-use issues to protect forests and biodiversity, improve livelihoods and food security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Until then, Indonesia remains, in the words of Secretary Kerry, a country on the “front lines of climate change.”