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Indonesia Plants 79 Million Trees Ahead of UN Climate Change Conference


The Indonesian government says it has planted 79 million trees in a single day across the sprawling archipelago as part of a global campaign to plant one billion trees. As VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins reports from Jakarta, the effort comes just days ahead of the United Nations climate change conference in Bali.

Indonesia began its tree-planting drive to show the government is serious about protecting the country's deteriorating environment.

Environmental experts say Indonesia is losing its forests at a faster rate than any another country because of illegal logging and the creation of new palm oil plantations.

The draining and burning of carbon-rich peat lands to make way for palm oil plantations also help make the nation the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Many scientists think those gases contribute to global warming, while deforestation robs the planet of trees that can absorb some greenhouse gases, and help cool the land.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who kicked off Wednesday's event by planting saplings along with members of his government, declared illegal logging the country's "biggest enemy."

Farah Sofa, the deputy director of the Indonesian environmental group WALHI, says tree planting alone will not be enough to stop rapid deforestation.

"It has to be appreciated, the initiative," she said. " I mean, this could be like one of those good initiatives but certainly it's not enough for addressing the environmental issues related to deforestation in Indonesia."

Farah, along with many national and international environmental groups, wants the government to declare a moratorium on palm oil plantations and all forms of logging.

"The illegal logging's happening because there is always a market, there's always a demand for Indonesian timber domestically and globally," she said. "So if the government declares that they put a moratorium [on] logging in place, then any kind of timber coming out of Indonesia must be illegal, yeah?"

Indonesia will host a United Nations conference on climate change beginning Monday on the island of Bali.

Representatives from 180 countries will attend the 11-day conference, and they will try to develop a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which expires in 2012. The delegates, however, will face pressure to make sure that any new agreement does not harm economic growth, particularly for developing nations such as Indonesia.

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