Business as usual to protect forests

Lim Mei Ming, Bandung | Opinion | The Jakarta Post

Being a country endowed with rich biodiversity in the form of the second-largest tropical forest in the world after Brazil, Indonesia has unfortunately shown irresponsibility given its fast deforestation rate.

Between 1990 and 2005, Indonesian forest degradation reached 28 million hectares (mha), including 21.7 mha of virgin forest. Worse, the country emits the third-highest level of greenhouse gases after the US and China, which is attributed to deforestation. 

Based on the facts, then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised at a G8 meeting in Pittsburgh, the US in 2009 to reduce Indonesian greenhouse-gas emissions by 26 percent from business-as-usual levels by 2020 through reformation of land and forest use as well as land-use change.

The promise indicated Yudhoyono’s recognition that deforestation was closely associated with conventional business practices, as the World Wildlife Fund concluded that most emissions come from forests that have been converted into crop farms, infrastructure, settlement areas and mining sites.

Concerned institutions like the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Greenpeace could not assert accountability in confirming then forestry minister Zulkifli Hassan’s claim to have reduced the annual deforestation rate from 830,000 ha in 2009-2011 to 450,000 ha in 2013.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) links Indonesia’s billing as the third-largest greenhouse-gas emitter with the country’s quest to become the largest palm-oil exporter with 24.43 million tons annually. 

Together with coal, palm oil is the most expected source of export revenue, after oil and gas.  

Delft Hydraulics, a Dutch consultancy company, reported that every ton of palm oil produced releases 33 tons of CO2, or 10 times the carbonation made by benzene. That is the reason writer George Monbiot asserted that biodiesel from palm oil causes 10 times as much climate change as ordinary diesel.

The scientific dissemination has prompted the northern hemisphere to reduce its reliance on tropical palm-oil imports to produce biofuel. It is reasonable that US President Barack Obama’s administration is determined to stop importing Indonesian palm oil that is produced in an unsustainable way, following in the footsteps of Nestle, Burger King, Walt Disney and other trans-national corporations.

The sustainable development notion was defined at the Earth Summit 1992 by the Brundtland Commission as a set of policies that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Also known as the UN Conference on Environment and Development, the summit historically defined transformation agendas of international development with a sustainability vision.

Thomas Walton and Derek Holmes from the International Herald Tribune said in 2010 that “only a radical departure from business as usual will spare the loss of Indonesia’s precious natural resource, which has generated annual export earnings averaging US$3.6 billion in the past three years”.

On the contrary, the government launched in 2010 the Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesian Economic Development (MP3EI), a macro-performance oriented development mega project, which only reconfirmed Indonesia’s penchant for business as usual. 

The six corridors of the MP3EI provide land, including forest areas, for estates of plantations, mining and other quick-profit economies. Nani Wartabone National Park in Gorontalo province’s Bone Bolango regency was dug out to mine gold, damaging local people’s cleanest water source. In East Kalimantan, 1.8 mha of green plains, including forest parks and protected forests, were sacrificed for a 99-kilometer toll road connecting Samarinda and Balikpapan. 

Deforestation is complimentarily justified now that Indonesia is bracing for ASEAN connectivity as part of the ASEAN Economic Community at the end of 2015. Construction of bridges, toll roads, railways, harbors and airports to support the connectivity is destroying mangroves, peatland and rain forests and marginalizing customary communities.

Economy does not talk only about money. Economic growth is not essentially about saving as much foreign exchange as possible. An economic value chain will run sustainably when individuals are allowed to empower themselves to lead their households in productive cycles. 

Exploitation of the environment, especially land mismanagement, results in disasters. Concreting land along northern coastal cities of North Sulawesi triggered landslides and floods from the capital Manado to the remote island of Sangihe, devastating civilities of global tourism. 

Let us also commemorate the horrible Wasior flash floods that claimed hundreds of lives in 2010, when green groups and the then forestry minister blamed illegal logging for the tragedy but the then public works minister insisted there had been morphological evolution at the site of the disaster. 

Forest conservation, including rehabilitation, is needed to maintain hydrology systems, which cover and bolster all human activities on earth. Therefore, global calls have mounted on the equatorial region to guard tropical forests as the lungs of the earth. Forest are a materially invaluable resource that money cannot buy.

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The writer is a freelance journalist and member of green group Sarekat Hijau Indonesia.

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