Conservation Perspective: Climate Change Crisis in Indonesia

Leuser ecosystem photo courtesy of
Leuser ecosystem photo courtesy of

by Tom for the Orangutan Conservancy

Climate experts, policy makers and media gathered recently at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta to discuss the challenges and opportunities that exist today in that country and around the world.

At the meeting, Dr. Sunaryo of the Research Center for Climate Change explained that “Indonesia has the most to lose if we cannot address our recurring fire and haze problem. We’re destroying our resources and jeopardizing the health of our people and our economy. But at the same time, we also have the most to gain if we can solve this, and reduce Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions in the process.”

He then went on to add, “Unlike the other big carbon polluting nations, whose emissions are mostly from fossil fuel burning, most of Indonesia’s emissions are from utilization and degradation of our forests and peatlands. Conceptually we could benefit economically if we can reduce this, however, via financial incentives for emissions reductions. Indonesia could in fact lead the world in carbon sequestration, and reap serious economic benefits, but this will only be possible if we take our responsibilities far more seriously, and really sustainably utilize, protect and restore our forests and peatlands.”

In recent years several major palm oil and pulp and paper companies working in Indonesia have voiced their commitment to sustainable production and zero deforestation policies. But the prevalence of detectable hotspots in many of their concessions, and in their subsidiary’s and supplier’s plantations, questions the seriousness of their proclamations and new commitments. If mere empty rhetoric, they will serve only to undermine investor confidence and damage Indonesia’s reputation further, making economic recovery even harder.

“Satellite data shows over 135,000 hotspot alerts in Indonesia over the last 6 months that have severely damaged at least 2 million hectares of land–of which, 600,000 were peatlands (LAPAN estimation). This catastrophe is estimated to contribute 1.1 Gigatons  of CO2e emissions to the atmosphere”, said Andhyta Utami, Climate Program Manager of WRI Indonesia.

Dr. Ian Singleton of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) – one of the projects that the Orangutan Conservancy helps to support – noted that, “The private sector has a responsibility to ensure global commodities like palm oil and paper are produced sustainably, and global markets are increasingly demanding a halt to environmental destruction. Producers and traders need to understand this. Consumers today are better informed than ever, and without transparency regarding which companies own which plantations, or who their suppliers are, will increasingly shy away from buying their products. Companies must learn that “business as usual” is no longer acceptable, and if unwilling to change they risk losing out to more progressive rivals.”

Dr. Singleton stressed, “Burning forests and peatlands kills virtually everything living there and many plantations are landscape scale. At SOCP we work mostly in and around the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, home to around 85% of all wild Sumatran orangutans. The Leuser Ecosystem suffered relatively few recent fires, probably largely due to highly publicised legal cases against palm oil companies found burning concessions in its Tripa peat swamps, in 2012. These cases are gradually resulting in successful prosecutions, something the Government needs to be congratulated for,” he emphasized.




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