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Indonesia Proposes Ambitious Emissions Target

  • Katie Hamann

Indonesia says its carbon emissions could be slashed more than 40 percent over the next 20 years by reducing deforestation, peat-land degradation and power use. Achieving this target will depend much upon whether countries can agree on a framework for carbon trading this year.

Many fortunes have been made from the destruction of Indonesia's forests.

Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation, is also among the poorest. Cutting down forests is one way to keep cash flowing. But pressure is growing on the country to keep its forests standing.

Indonesia ranks third behind the United States and China as the worst carbon polluters. About 80 percent comes from deforestation and degradation of peat-lands. Those lands absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases that scientists think contributes to global warming. And cutting trees, or destroying peat-lands releases gases into the atmosphere.

A new study by the National Climate Change Council says Indonesia could cut its emissions by more than 40 percent of 2005 levels over 20 years simply by protecting forests, replanting trees and maintaining peat lands. It is an ambitious target that would, the study says, result in a five percent reduction in global emissions.

But Erik Meijaard, a forest scientist working on an orangutan preservation project, says the idea will be difficult to execute.

"Well it's a great idea, I like it," he said, "if they can make it work, I guess the Indonesia government is very well aware of how incredibly complex it would be to pull it off. It's a simple idea, but so many things have to fall in place; the whole carbon accounting, your land-use planning, the poor governance, so it is a real challenge."

While the Indonesia government says it is establishing emissions reduction programs, most of the funding for proposed cuts will have to come from overseas. And it will not be cheap. The National Climate Change Council estimates that reducing Indonesia's emissions by 40 percent will cost around $32 billion.

This figure is based on predictions about the price of carbon emissions if an international system is established to allow polluters to offset emissions by paying companies or countries to reduce theirs.

The United Nation's proposed mechanism for trading carbon is called Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Degradation, or REDD.

But the REDD market is not expected to be functional before 2012. And Agus Purnomo, the executive secretary of the National Council on Climate Change, says setting up viable projects in Indonesia could take much longer.

"So over time, five years, seven years, perhaps 10 years, then we will have all the elements of REDD in place, then we can come up with high quality REDD projects for the carbon market to pay," said Purnomo.

As in many developing nations, lifting the fortunes of its citizens remains the Indonesian government's number one priority.

This means that until the REDD mechanism is working, Indonesia will continue to use its forest resources in more conventional ways - chopping down trees for lumber and farmland.

Agus Purnomo agrees that more should be done to limit deforestation but he also supports economic development.

"We are not hinting that that Indonesia needs to stop breathing, or need to stop cutting trees, no," said Purnomo, "or needs to stop using coal as power plant, no! We are not in any legal standard required to cut emissions."

This approach, however, will mean that around one million hectares of forest will be lost every year for the foreseeable future.

The government has been criticized for allowing peat-land to be used for palm-oil plantations and continuing to issue land-clearing permits.

Environment Minister Rachmat Witolear says Indonesia is acting to reduce its carbon emissions by planting billions of trees. But he says the developed world must bear more of the burden of fighting climate change.

"I see that the countries involved are not really putting their best efforts into doing this and this is why the developing nations are up in arms against the developed nations," said Witolear.

Forest scientist Erik Meijaard has been impressed by Indonesian efforts to stop illegal logging in recent years. He says with the right leadership and political will, it is possible to cut emissions by 40 percent.

"A couple of years back everyone saw something that simply wouldn't be resolved; the financial interests in illegal logging were just too big, the governance was too poor and it just wouldn't change," said Meijaard, "and the government took it very seriously and involved army and police very effectively, and I wouldn't say illegal logging has disappeared, but certainly, from what I can see in the field, it's come down a lot."

Indonesian environmentalists will be looking for signs of this political will when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announces the members of his second cabinet, expected to come this month.

But more importantly, they say, there must be the political will globally to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and for wealthy countries to help developing nations meet that goal.

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