Empty promises: All that remains of Indonesia’s climate plans

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At the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh in 2009, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Indonesia’s President famously promised that Indonesia would reduce its emissions by 26% by 2020 from business as usual. With international suppport, he said, Indonesia could reduce emissions by 41%. Four years on and there’s practically nothing to show for Yudhoyono’s promises.

Environmental activists recently submitted a class-action lawsuit against Yudhoyono for failing to protect people in Riau province on Sumatra from the effects of climate change. The lawsuit is also aimed at Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya, and the governor of Riau, Rusli Zainal, who is currently detained by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) charged with three counts of corruption, including handing out logging permits between 2001 and 2006.

Yudhoyono did not mention coal in his G20 speech in Pittsburgh. This is perhaps surprising given the country’s plans for expanding its coal industry. Since 2011, Indonesia has been the world’s largest coal exporter. In 2006, the country started Fast Track I, an energy infrastructure programme aimed at developing 16 GW of coal-fired power generation. In 2010, Yudhoyono’s government announced Fast Track II, to develop a further 10 GW.

The World Bank is supporting Indonesia’s rush for coal through the Indonesia Infrastructure Guarantee Fund (IIGF), which the Bank created and financed. The IIGF’s first government guarantee, worth US$33.9 million, is to the Central Java Power Project, a 2,000 MW coal plant. Oil Change International is calling on the World Bank to withdraw its funding from the IIGF, unless it stops financing coal.

There have been large protests against the proposed US$4 billion plant. Arif Fiyanto of Greenpeace South Asia-Indonesia, told The Huffington Post, “Around 7,000 villagers who live around the proposed site of Central Java Coal Power Plant are strongly opposed to the huge coal power project.”

Then there’s the Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia’s Economic Development (MP3EI). This is not just business as usual. MP3EI is a massively ambitious development programme that includes six “economic development corridors”. MP3EI proposes new roads, new railways, the expansion of the mining industry, and huge new areas of oil palm and industrial tree plantations.

Kalimantan, for example, is nominated as the economic corridor for the Centre for Production and Processing of National Mining and Energy Reserves. Plans include a 424 kilometre railway line to facilitate increased coal exports. A group of Indonesian NGOs calling themselves the Alliance for Rejection of Coal Railways in Central Kalimantan is opposing the plans.

Instead of talking about emissions from coal, Yudhoyono’s climate promises to the G20 in Pittsburgh relied on on reducing emissions from forests:

We are devising an energy mix policy including LULUCF (Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry) that will reduce our emissions by 26 percent by 2020 from BAU (Business As Usual). With international support, we are confident that we can reduce emissions by as much as 41 percent. This target is entirely achievable because most of our emissions come from forest related issues, such as forest fires and deforestation.

In an article last week on The Conversation website, Erik Olbrei a researcher at the Australian National University looks at the destruction of Indonesia’s peatlands and the implications for the climate. “Indonesia’s peatlands are now a globally significant source of emissions,” Olbrei writes.

Most of the fires that happened in Sumatra in June this year were in peatland, on land set to become oil palm or acacia plantations. Olbrei explains why this is important:

The greenhouse significance of Indonesia’s peatlands lies in the fact they can store up to 20 times as much carbon as tropical rainforests on normal mineral soils, 90% of it below ground. Peatlands release carbon for decades after deforestation as the underlying peat decomposes or is burnt.

Indonesia’s peatlands hold vast amounts of carbon – 57 billion tonnes, according to a 2010 paper in Global Change Biology.

Olbrei puts this in context:

To limit the world to 2 degrees of warming, we can emit no more than 600 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases between now and 2050. Indonesia’s peatland carbon alone, if released as CO2 in the atmosphere, is equivalent to one-third of the remaining carbon budget.

Since the 1970s, Indonesia lost more than half its peat forest cover. “This downward spiral won’t end any time soon,” Olbrei writes. With much of the peat forest in Sumatra and Kalimantan destroyed, Papua is the new frontier. Logging is increasing, pulp mills are planned and concession areas increasing.

Forest degradation makes peatland fires more likely and climate change makes things worse, with predictions of more prolonged El Niño dry periods in Indonesia. Olbrei comments that, “The peatlands of Sumatra and Kalimantan are headed for collapse. Major question marks surround Papua’s peatlands.”

Peatlands in Sumatra and Kalimantan emit around 1 Gt of CO2 each year. Globally, this is already significant. Olbrei writes that,

If Indonesia’s peatlands were a country, they would be the world’s 7th or 8th largest emitter. More alarmingly, with half of Indonesia’s peatland deforested or degraded, around 100 Gt CO2 or about 50 times Indonesia’s annual emissions could be released into the atmosphere over coming decades.

Olbrei makes three suggestions for protecting Indonesia’s peatlands:

  • existing concessions on peatland need to be transferred to degraded lands elsewhere. This is something Indonesia’s national development planning agency has long called for.
  • Laws protecting peat and banning fires need to be enforced vigorously.
  • And critically, Papua’s peatlands need protection to ensure they do not go the way of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“None of these things are happening,” Olbrei notes and concludes that, “A better understanding of the global significance of Indonesia’s peatlands is needed to spur Indonesian and international policy-makers into action.”

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s emissions are increasing, both from digging out and burning fossil fuels and from the failure to prevent the destruction of forests and peatlands.

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3 Comments

  1. Just wanted to complement you on an excellent survey of Indonesia’s emissions problems. I’ll probably be assigning this blog entry in my sustainable development class.

  2. What gives you the right to make species extinct, pollute the earth and profit from crime? All in the name of profit? Shamefull…..

  3. Indonesias climate change commitments can be categorized as words are wind. SBY is making shiny promises to combat climate change and reduce emission while in parallel forest conversion into more profitable land use like oilpalm or coal mining as well as uncontrolled degradation through timber companies continues at an unaltered rate.

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