Blog about UN Climate Change Conference in Bali 3-14 December 2007 and other related issues

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Indonesia a climate change perpetrator

Should climate change be made the priority in Indonesia's environmental policy? I believe the answer is "yes". Indonesia should be more actively involved in global efforts to combat climate change by making this a priority among other environmental issues.

First of all, climate change will affect our lives. The 2001 IPCC report estimates, with a high degree of confidence, several impacts of climate change in tropical Asia. The report predicts climate change will increase tropical Asian countries' vulnerability to extreme climate events, including droughts and floods. Increased precipitation intensity, particularly during the summer monsoon season, could expose people in flood-prone areas to a higher risk of floods.

The IPCC report also predicts climate change will increase occurrences and the intensity of tropical cyclones, with serious consequences. Stronger tropical cyclones combined with rising sea-levels may lead to increased risk of loss of life and property in low-lying coastal areas.

Moreover, strong winds resulting from cyclones, combined with thermal and water stresses, sea level rise and increased flooding, will threaten crop production and aquaculture.

According to the report, large deltas and low-lying coastal areas in Asia could be inundated by rising sea-levels. On this particular issue, we could also refer to a study of Nicholls and Mimura, which estimates Indonesia will lose 1.9 percent of its land area with just a 0.6 meter rise in sea-levels (R.J. Nicholls and N. Mimura, 1998).

Other impacts predicted by the report include a higher incidence of heat-related and infectious diseases due to warmer and wetter conditions, increased vulnerability of freshwater supplies and threats to biodiversity resulting from land-use change and population pressures in Asia.

Given such enormous potential impacts, I see no choice but to make climate change a priority among environmental issues.

We should consider several adaptation options to minimize the magnitude of these impacts, ranging from the adjustment of harvest times and the development of new hybrids, to the protection of wetlands.

Climate change can also be mitigated with the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions. The question is, who should bear the responsibility for the reductions?

This responsibility should be differentiated according to each country's past emissions. In the climate change issue, bygones are not bygones -- polluters should pay for the damage they have caused. This can be seen in the differentiated responsibilities under UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, where the obligation to reduce emissions falls exclusively on developed countries.

Indonesia is excluded from obligation. This is certainly understandable given the current GHGs concentrations originate largely from developed countries.

For this reason, it should be noted, the responsibility to reduce emissions can no longer be considered a form of assistance given by developed countries to developing countries. Instead such a responsibility is compensation to be paid by developed countries for their past and current excessive emissions levels.

Unfortunately, the report of Wetlands International and Delft Hydraulics provides a different picture about our emissions. It says when emissions from forest and peatland destruction are accounted for, Indonesia comes hard on the heels of the U.S. and China as the main contributor to climate change. This alarming report may have serious consequences to our position in climate change negotiations.

On one hand, if the report is correct, we can no longer consider ourselves as victims of climate change. We are now a perpetrator, and one of the worst.

On the other hand such a change in status from victim to culprit may impede us in taking initiatives to induce developed countries to reduce their emissions. We cannot push developed countries unless we can significantly reduce our own emissions, and such a reduction will only occur if we make climate change the priority in our environmental policy.

Lastly, I believe we can make significant emissions reductions inexpensively. As mentioned above, Indonesia's total emissions have drastically increased due to forest and peatland destruction. Excluding emissions from forest and peatland destruction, the country's total emissions are ranked 21st, far below those of developed countries.

Indonesia's per capita emissions are lower than those of neighboring developing countries, let alone developed countries, thanks to our huge population. This means our emissions will be significantly reduced if we restore our degraded forests and peatlands, while simultaneously preventing further destruction.

The good news is, good forest and peatland management does not necessarily involve large costs. Forest and peatland degradation in Indonesia has mainly resulted from activities that are actually illegal. Those activities include illegal logging and forest fires due to land clearing using the slash-and-burn method.

Hence, it is plausible to argue that our emissions reductions first and foremost require a strong government willing to enforce our own environmental law. Let's not forget while developed countries' emissions could be seen as a symbol of economic growth and prosperity, ours are the symbol of lawlessness and ignorance, if not foolishness.

Source: The Jakarta Post

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