By Robert Blake
This article was originally published in the Jakarta Post with the same title here.
No doubt 2021 will be a pivotal year in global efforts to combat climate change. President Joe Biden has invited the 17 members of the major economies forum, including Indonesia, to a virtual summit on April 22-23 to urge much greater ambition as these critical countries prepare the emissions reductions commitments they will announce at the Conference of Parties (COP26) meeting in Glasgow at the end of 2021.
Indonesia historically has been a major contributor to climate change because of its high rates of deforestation and its continued reliance on fossil fuels, particularly coal.
The good news is that we are now seeing sustained progress to protect Indonesia’s magnificent pristine rainforests, the third largest in the world, at a time when progress in countries like Brazil are lagging.
I was fortunate during my time as US ambassador to Indonesia to visit many of Indonesia’s great forest reserves in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua. I still vividly remember my 2014 visit to the incredible mangrove forests of Mimika in Papua, gazing up in awe at the tallest mangroves in the world, and a major carbon sink that the United States was helping to protect.
Recent figures from Global Forest Watch, the satellite-based monitoring system of the World Resources Institute, show that the headline deforestation rate in Indonesia has fallen for the fourth straight year, in stark contrast to trends in the Amazon and Congo.
Ministry of Environment and Forestry official statistics likewise show a deforestation rate of 115,000 hectares for 2019-2020, the lowest forest loss recorded by the ministry in the last two decades.
This considerable achievement is mirrored across the forest portfolio: Indonesia was the first country in the world whose domestic timber legality scheme, SVLK, was considered sufficiently robust to be accredited by the EU’s timber import agreement, FLEGT; the incidence of fires in peat and forest areas has fallen from 2.6 million ha in 2015, to 296,000 ha in 2020; and in parallel of about 835,000 ha of peatlands have been rewetted and reforested.
These notable achievements stem from a sound policy framework instituted by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration, and improved on-the- ground implementation and law enforcement.
There is a permanent moratorium banning the clearing of primary forests and peatlands, in addition to a moratorium on new oil palm licenses initiated in 2018.
Indonesia has an ambitious emissions reductions target which focuses on sharp cuts in emissions from the land use sector; it has innovative and effective social forestry policies and agrarian reform; an ambitious One Map Policy; and is one of the first countries in the world to have a comprehensive low carbon development plan, or LCDI.
New initiatives underway will help accelerate Indonesia’s global leadership in reducing deforestation and emissions including a possible domestic carbon pricing mechanism; potential ecological fiscal transfers; an enhanced Nationally Determined Contribution package announced by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry last week with new commitments on oceans, coral and wetlands; and plans to restore 600,000 ha of degraded mangroves over the next four years.
This momentum is now being echoed in my country, where President Biden has rejoined Paris Agreement and established a national climate task force. The forthcoming Earth Day celebration on April 22 will see the United States begin again to play a leadership role in international climate and environmental diplomacy. It has invited world climate leaders, including President Jokowi, grassroots activists, non-profit innovators, thought leaders, industry leaders, artists, musicians and celebrities in amplifying climate actions through “Restore Our Earth” theme.
It is heartening that Indonesia shares a similar vision in combating climate change. Indonesia’s success has borne fruit not only domestically but also in attracting international climate finance. To date Indonesia has been approved to receive three significant results based payments for its performance in reducing deforestation and forest degradation though the REDD+ mechanism; from the Green Climate Fund (US$104 million), the World Bank ($110 million) and Norway ($56 million).
But this could be just the tip of the iceberg as Indonesia is now well positioned to benefit from the rapidly growing interest and availability of international blended carbon finance, including potential sale of carbon credits on a jurisdictional scale. These could be transformative for not only for Indonesia’s forests but also in achieving a sustainable green post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
As the world’s leading natural capital superpower, Indonesia’s experience and vision to spur economic growth that is socially and environmentally inclusive will increasingly become a template for other countries to follow.
As we progress toward COP26 in Glasgow, the efforts to protect forests and peatland, reduce emissions, boost the livelihoods of the poorest who live on the edges of these forests, promote sustainable agriculture and a green COVID recovery will not only be good for Indonesia but for our planet.
*** The writer is U.S. ambassador to Indonesia from 2013-16, now leads the Southeast Asia practice at McLarty Associates (MAGlobal.com) and is the U.S. Co-Chair of the USINDO.