Wary of Climate Change, Indonesia Looks to Lawmakers for Solutions

JAKARTA, May 27 2014 (IPS) – Comprised of over 17,000 islands that are highly susceptible to rising seas, Indonesia is taking stock of its position as the world’s third leading emitter of greenhouse gases after the United States and China.

Faced with the upcoming GLOBE Summit of World Legislators, scheduled to take place in Mexico City next month to test a new international climate change agreement centered on national legislation, the Indonesian government is in a race against time to evaluate its existing climate change policies, and bring its laws in line with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s promise to slash carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2020.

The international community is largely agreed that the next two years will be crucial in determining the planet’s future vis-à-vis global warming. At the end of 2015, Paris will host the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an event scientists are calling the “last chance” for world leaders to agree on a global emissions peak.

Indonesia is poised to play a significant role in negotiations, with local initiatives like its Green Economy Caucus (GEC) – a sustainable development model launched last year – offering valuable lessons for the international community.

But environmental experts here say that unless swift steps are taken to boost dialogue between legislators and government officials, the country will not advance far down its path towards sustainability.

Farhan Helmy, manager of the Indonesia Climate Change Centre (ICCC), is hopeful that the GLOBE summit will provide the basis for exactly this kind of conversation.

“The conversations so far [on climate change] have not been very well connected, even in Warsaw last year,” Helmy, who was a lead negotiator with the Indonesian delegation on climate change at the 2013 UNFCCC in Poland, told IPS.

“I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel with less than two years left… What we do need is to encourage frank and open dialogue between the legislators and the government.”

Helmy strongly supports platforms like the GEC, comprised of a team of lawmakers who are plotting the country’s transition to a green economy, including identifying environmentally friendly methods of exploiting natural resources.

According to Satya Yudha, GEC’s president and a member of Indonesia’s House of Representatives who was recently re-elected for another five-year term in office, the caucus also focuses on devising green bills, creating a renewable energy strategy, and implementing the United Nations-backed REDD+ initiative (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).

The latter, Yudha told IPS, is essential for the management of land usage and for monitoring forest conservation and protected areas.

“Seventy percent of [Indonesia’s] carbon emissions come from land usage, and 30 percent from the energy sector,” he said, adding that legislators must push parliamentarians to prioritise environmental policies when setting the government’s annual budget.

Setyo Budiantoro from Prakarsa – the local NGO that helped set up the GEC – told IPS that one of Indonesia’s biggest obstacles was its parliamentarians’ mistrust in the very notion of climate change.

“That’s why there’s no…sense of urgency for parliamentarians to act on a climate change law,” the NGO’s executive director explained. “So that’s one of GEC’s main objectives, to create more awareness.”


Indonesia’s former lead negotiator for the country’s delegation for climate change to the UNFCCC, Farhan Helmy, says the gap needs to be closed between global initatives at a national level for results. Photo credit: Sandra Siagian

The case for a multi-sector approach

Indonesia’s attempts to cut emissions caused by deforestation also serve as an excellent case study on the need for collaboration between lawmakers and various government sectors.

Deforestation has been rampant here in recent years, mainly due to the world’s hunger for palm oil, pulp and paper. According to a 2013 study published in ‘Science’ magazine, the country’s rate of deforestation between 2000 and 2003 totalled roughly one million hectares a year, and doubled to two million hectares a year between 2011 and 2012.

The destruction has led to deadly flash floods, landslides and the loss of habitat for endangered species like orangutans and rhinos.

Last year Yudhoyono extended a 2011 moratorium, which barred new logging and palm-oil plantation permits under a one-billion-dollar deal with Norway.

The extension of the landmark ban on clearing primary rainforests and peat lands will preserve 64 million hectares until 2015. However, environmentalists have been sceptical that some protected areas continue to be exploited due to corruption, illegal fires and logging.

A recent Human Rights Watch report argued that Indonesia’s forestry ministry failed to “accurately map forests, land use, and concession boundaries, and did not fairly allocate use rights.”

Citing an investigation by the country’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), the report, entitled ‘The Dark Side of Green Growth’, found that these “weaknesses were central causes of persistent corruption and lost government revenue, as well as high levels of deforestation.”

Muhammad Farid from REDD+ believes that Indonesia “needs to enforce policies from the top level to monitor all land sectors for unplanned deforestation, illegal logging, encroachment and forest fires.”

“REDD+ can’t fix everything,” he told IPS. “We need support from other ministries within Indonesia to really make a difference. Mining, agriculture, home affairs, they all need to coordinate with the government. This is not an easy task, but it will eventually be done.”

Locally, the jury is still out on Yudhoyono’s voluntary pledge to severely reduce carbon emissions by the end of the decade. Some experts, like Yudha, admit the president is on the right path, but are concerned about balancing an “ambitious” target with savvy economic policies.

Others, like Farid, are more optimistic, convinced that the right policies and incentives could put the country within reach of the goal in six years.

“If we [successfully] reduce encroachment and [improve] the state of our forests, and also…reduce unplanned deforestation and illegal logging, I think this goal can be reached,” he said.

With presidential elections scheduled for July, it remains to be seen whether or not the new government will follow in Yudhoyono’s footsteps.

“My hope is that whoever leads the country understands that we are not alone in [these] efforts,” Helmy asserted, adding that Indonesia is just one of many countries actively participating in global negotiations on climate change.

“I think the stakes for us are quite high… we have small islands and rising sea levels.”

Given that reality, if Indonesia fails to take concrete steps to strengthen its national legislation it will stop being part of the solution and join the ranks of the “troublemakers in the global society,” he added.



Logs stacked in Riau, Sumatra, which has one of Indonesia’s highest rates of deforestation.