Yudhoyono’s robust response to climate change

Perspektif Online
08 November 2012

Insight: Yudhoyono’s robust response to climate change
Wimar Witoelar, Jakarta | Insight | Wed, November 07 2012, 8:52 AM


Rini Astuti: Economists emphasize  the extraction of resources that nature is offering, while conservationists focus on how to protect nature from overexploitation. The demarcation between the two  start to vanish with the emergence of an idea to put price tags on nature


Superstorm Sandy is more than a disaster. It is a warning to all of us about the direct effects of climate change. It was an extreme weather incident with an exacerbated impact.




Man-made carbon emissions are causing severe climate change more frequently and with greater devastation. We have several 100-year floods that have taken place in one decade. After the storm caused billions of dollars in damage, US politicians stated it was related to climate change and that elected leaders must take immediate action. It is not a political issue, although politics and science clash in most aspects of climate change.

Now in Indonesia, climate change confronts the polity. In November 2009, the world was impressed by President Susilo Bambang Yudho-yono’s commitment to a 41 percent carbon emissions reduction for Indonesia before 2020, with the international community supporting Indonesia. In May 2011, a friendly government responded by pledging US billion to a three-phase support process and a number of related assistance programs was initiated by bilateral donors. These efforts are linked to the international effort to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation” (REDD+). 

It was a fine start. Now the need centers on the creation of a “robust” REDD+ agency, as agreed in Phase 1 of the Indonesia-Norway partnership. A draft has been prepared for President Yudhoyono. It is important to keep the current draft robust and not allow it to be significantly watered down.  

Yudhoyono has achieved growing international stature based on his desire to fulfill commitments on climate change to Indonesia and the global community. He is visibly linked to the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals process, which he is leading with UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Internationally, Yudhoyono is appreciated for his leadership on climate change and his legacy will be recognized domestically by leaving behind a new REDD+ agency endowed with robust structure and strong leadership.

The year 2013 will see Indonesia set in place in institutional and policy framework whereby the management of its natural resource base, particularly of forests and peat lands, will turn the corner toward sustainability. But this depends on the creation of a robust agency. It is the President’s call.

While diligence is demanded to appreciate the intricacies of the issues, a compelling fact is that millions of Indonesians are threatened directly and indirectly by the expansion of the plantation sector. The sector does little to contribute to Indonesia’s gross domestic products (GDP) economically. This is the “competing development paradigm”. It includes the recognition of adat (customary) territories and improving the welfare of millions of rural Indonesians, and lessening conflict by dealing with the foundations of land tenure. 

Competing development paradigms define the rural development dynamic in Indonesia. The first has developed over generations and emphasizes plant and tree diversity or multispecies land management systems. It is based on achieving economic and ecological equilibrium. This is the preference and tradition of millions of Indonesian farmers.

The second and conventional paradigm converts natural capital to financial capital, often irreversibly. It maximizes production of a single commercial species, or monoculture, often integrated upward into a global supply chain. It relies heavily on large capital investments and mostly migrant labor. This, as currently implemented, is a government-sanctioned land hungry rural development approach that often incites violence. 

Industrial forest plantations also receive substantial direct government subsidies. While often cited as playing a major contributing role in the national economy through exports and job creation (only 3 percent of Gross National Product in 2009), the full environmental and social costs of large-scale agribusiness have never been taken into account. A balance is called for that is based on smallholder low-emissions land and forest management systems, coupled with a more sustainable plantation sector.

Currently, political campaign financing leads to rent-seeking behavior. It continues to rely on high carbon emitting plantations and mining projects at the expense of more sustainable community-based land and forest management traditions. Presidential leadership can change this paradigm by insisting on a robust REDD+ agency as an important step.

The decision at hand is to push through the establishment of a National REDD+ agency reporting directly to the President. This would be in accordance with the recently finalized National REDD+ strategy. Accordingly, the agency will be responsible for leading the design, oversight and, when necessary, the implementation of a national REDD+ program, including the two-year moratorium, coordinating all REDD+ initiatives including all international contributions, setting-up a funding instrument, ensuring appropriate measures to address conflict and compensation claims, ensuring institutionalized monitoring, reporting and verification of safeguards, and strengthening local institutions to implement REDD+ initiatives.

This decree, once signed, will set in motion all of the above. The outstanding question is if and how much it will be changed? History shows that special interests are effective in redirecting new initiatives. This is a moment of truth in the fulfillment of Indonesia’s unique opportunity to continue its leadership role in protecting the planet from the destruction of its forests. 

Global warming may yet be forestalled if leadership at the highest levels of government is strong. This will directly benefit future generations across the world. But the promise will not be met if good people cannot make a convincing case against special interests. 

The moment of truth faces us in the form of presidential approval for a robust REDD+ agency.

The writer was a spokesman for the late Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, who was president of Indonesia from 1999 to 2001.

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