Indonesian president pens song for forests

Sgt Pepper?

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono seems to have Norwegian Wood stuck in his head. The Soul Man of Southeast Asia burst into song in front of journalists in Norway after announcing a moratorium on deforestation as long as Norway coughs up a billion bucks. Greenpeace has been begging him to do that for years but instead of doing it because it was the right thing to do, the billion-dollar sweetener from Oslo seems to have been the clincher. Call me cynical, because I am.

According to The Jakarta Globe, the minstrel of the Malacca Strait was so inspired by the sight of trees outside his hotel room that he wrote a song called “Oslo”:

During his final press briefing before coming home to Jakarta on Sunday, Yudho yono announced his new creation and spontaneously asked for a guitar to demonstrate his vocal abilities.

“Unite world for our Earth, let’s do it, let us hold hands to look after it. Lift your hands and pray to God for the safety of our children and grandchildren,” the lyrics went.

Sadly, Yudhoyono asked for the performance to be off the record.

“Please, turn off [the camera] because [the song] is not done yet. It will reduce my royalty fees,” he said to laughter from the audience. He added that he was on the lookout for a singer who would be perfect for the song.

No doubt “SBY” will put the song on his next album (he’s already released three CDs of love ballads and patriotic tunes), so we’ll have to wait until then before we can really dig the Big Man’s environmental groove.

Excuse me while I throw up…

Of course it’s good news that SBY has announced a moratorium on deforestation but the devil is in the detail and the implementation. Very few laws are ever implemented the way they are intended in Indonesia. The government, the courts and the police are simply too weak and the forces of corruption simply too strong.

Just look at the current forestry regulations. To say illegal logging is rampant is a sad understatement. It’s totally out of control, and people in business, parliament and the military are allegedly involved up to the dollar signs in their eyeballs. That’s not to say the president is involved, but ultimately he is responsible as the head of state.

GreenpeaceWWF and others have welcomed the moratorium, while warning that grand statements in foreign capitals are just the beginning. Greenpeace noted that the moratorium does not affect existing concessions, including one granted recently to convert four million acres of forest in the Papua region into palmoil plantations. There’s also plenty of time for more tracts of forest to be handed over to developers and timber barons before the two-year moratorium begins in 2011.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia Political Advisor Yuyun Indradi said:

Transparent and participatory mechanisms must be set up to ensure the funds flow in the right direction and safeguards established to protect biodiversity and Indigenous peoples rights. Furthermore, we must ensure that the emissions reductions that result are measured against how much deforestation is happening currently, not against future predictions of forest loss.

Greenpeace believes that any deal to reduce deforestation must be designed to ensure action at the national level and not focus on individual protection projects. REDD funding should target the protection of intact and other natural forest, including peatland, because preventing their destruction has the greatest potential for reducing GHG emissions. The funding must not support the development of agricultural or monoculture plantations or subsidise the expansion of industrial logging and agri-business.

So we’ll see how this “moratorium” plays out. What about the massive illegal logging, which by many estimates accounts for half Indonesia’s timber output? Will SBY genuinely confront what he has called the “timber mafia”? How much carbon dioxide will Norway’s cash prevent from reaching the atmosphere? Who is going to measure that, and how? Will the cash be co-opted by the palmoil or agri-business industries? How will indigenous people be able to use the forests?

As for REDD, this idea has the potential to save the world’s forests and massively reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, but at this stage no one knows how it will work. For the latest sceptical analysis of the concept, check out Fred Pearce’s article here.

As has been noted many times before, REDD-based carbon markets for forest preservation will fail while doing nothing to slow CO2 emissions unless the governments in forest countries can be trusted to manage their resources precisely. There is little chance of that currently in Indonesia. What does the Norway deal say about the rule of law and effective governance? Indonesia can’t even collect its own taxes. How is it going to stop the destruction of its forests?

SBY should take a word of advice from Bob Dylan: “Know your song well before you start singing”.

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