Indonesia’s climate ambitions

Talk of Indonesia playing a lead role in climate talks ignore its failure to stop rampant illegal logging.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was feted in Copenhagen in December as a leader of the developing world on climate responsibility. He talks the talk everyone wants to hear about saving the planet, and much of what he says is swallowed by diplomats, other leaders and the media without much thought for the reality on the ground in Indonesia, a massive tropical archipelago of 17,000 islands featuring some of the richest biodiversity and largest carbon sinks on the planet.

Late last year a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) put Yudhoyono’s claims of environmental responsibility into context. Entitled “Wild Money: The Human Rights Consequences of Illegal Logging and Corruption in Indonesia’s Forestry Sector”, it says as much as half of Indonesia’s massive timber output is illegally logged.

In some years that amounts to about 20 million cubic metres of illegally logged timber, providing tax-free profits that are more than enough to buy officials tasked with managing the country’s vast forest resources, it says.

This fiasco badly undermines Indonesia’s dreams — promoted and backed by neighbouring Australia — of pioneering forest conservation as a means of offsetting global carbon emissions.

A UN-backed scheme on the table in Copenhagen would see rich countries pay developing countries like Indonesia to preserve the carbon locked in their forests. But as long as its business-as-usual for Indonesia’s forestry ministry and timber barons, there can be no confidence in any carbon offsets linked to forest conservation in Indonesia. 

Indonesia is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, mainly through deforestation. It is tearing up its forests faster than any other country. As much as 20 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions are estimated to come from forest destruction.

So stopping the rape of Indonesia’s forests is vital to tackling global warming.

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