The future of Indonesian forests

The Jakarta Globe: September 28, 2011: Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

Indonesia, like many other countries blessed with tropical forests, is facing the challenge of sustainably managing its vitally important forest resources.

Globally, we are facing the challenges of climate change and environmental degradation. Global warming increasingly threatens our livelihoods and even our very survival. On top of that, because we are facing another global financial crisis, nations may lose vigor in meeting their environmental commitments.

As a developing nation, we prioritize the promotion of growth and the eradication of poverty. But we will not achieve these goal by sacrificing our forests. This is because forest management is tightly intertwined with the livelihood of our people, with our food security and with the availability of wood and fuel.

We must change the way we treat our forests so that they are conserved even as we drive hard to accelerate our economic growth. We must intensify our efforts to cut down emissions from land use, land use change and forestry exploitation. These factors account for up to 85 percent of Indonesia’s entire greenhouse gas emissions.

Let me now raise several questions. First, at the global level, what do Indonesia’s efforts to sustainably manage its forests mean?

Indonesia’s tropical forests are the third largest in the world. Our forests host roughly 12 percent of the world’s mammals, 16 percent of its reptiles and amphibians and 17 percent of all bird species. More than 10,000 species of trees have been recorded across the archipelago. Each year many new species are discovered in Indonesia.

Forests are the linchpin to our biodiversity. They are home to bees, bats, birds, insects and other pollinators of the crops we plant. They also help regulate the quality and availability of water for irrigation.

Why is sustainable forest management so important to Indonesia?

The first reason is food security. The government is pursuing a program to increase agricultural and forest productivity, particularly through the cultivation of critical and idle lands. We have selected centers of rice production in several provinces throughout Indonesia. The sustainability of forests is crucial to abundant rice harvests.

Second, our forests are home to potential sources of energy such as micro-hydro, geothermal and bio-energy. We are increasing the portion of alternative sources in our energy mix.

Third, Indonesia is a major supplier of fiber. Indonesia’s land availability and the fast growth of many tree species have also increased the economic value of our forests.

Fourth, forests make the terrain more resistant to landslides that threaten many communities. They are vital to efforts at mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Last, through our efforts at reducing carbon dioxide emissions, Indonesia can make a significant positive impact on the climate situation. Our peat swamp forests have suffered degradation. That has greatly diminished their capacity to reduce CO2 emissions. Restoration is therefore essential.

To ensure the sustainability of our forests while still meeting our development objectives, my government has given priority to a set of policies and actions to safeguard our forests and ensure their sustainable management. I made a pledge at the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh that we would voluntarily reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2020. Since then, my government has carried out many initiatives. In 2010, we signed a letter of intent with the government of Norway to cut emissions by reducing deforestation and forest degradation, or REDD Plus.

In May, I instituted a two-year moratorium on new licenses to exploit natural primary forest and all peatlands. Two weeks ago, I signed a decree outlining more than 70 self-funded government programs. These are groundbreaking steps, but they are not goals in themselves. They are simply measures that give us time and resources to review and revise land use policy and practice.

I have signed a decree to set up a task force for the establishment of a REDD Plus agency and we are also developing a national strategy on REDD Plus.

Still another initiative is the provision of funding for small and medium enterprises run by forest-edge inhabitants, micro-finance programs for the rural poor and for women, and self-sufficiency projects for local villages. At the grassroots level, we have also launched a massive campaign to plant one billion trees nationwide.

Despite our modest achievements, I am mindful that these efforts will only take us part of the way toward our emission reduction target. We know we must do more to address the primary sources of our greenhouse emissions, such as illegal logging, forest encroachment, forest and land fires, and peatland drainage. And indeed we are working hard and comprehensively to overcome these challenges. We are mainstreaming all these perspectives and commitments into a special development framework. Our endeavors to effectively protect the environment are reflected in a special 15-year master plan to accelerate and expand development. This means that sustainable development is part and parcel of our efforts to boost Indonesia’s economy, so that it will become the 12th largest economy by 2025.

The task before us today is to chart a sustainable future for our forests and meet our development objectives. This is not an easy task, but we will pay a much higher price if we do not take up the challenge. By working hard together, we can help guarantee the future of our forests. And the future of our children and grandchildren. That future begins now.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is the sixth president of Indonesia. This text is adapted from his speech at the Cifor-hosted Forests Indonesia Conference on Tuesday.


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