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OPINION: After Paris – Indonesia’s biodiversity protection efforts also hold climate change solution

How important are biodiversity and ecosystems services in achieving post-Paris commitments? Mr. Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, Senior Advisor for Climate Change, Ministry of Environment and Forestry of the Republic of Indonesia talks about the role of biodiversity conservation in combating climate change, and the importance of such an approach for Indonesia. Mr. Kusumaatmadja is one of the most respected and senior politicians in Indonesia, and has previously served ministerial posts for marine affairs and fisheries (1999-2001), the environment (1993-8), and  administrative reform (1988-93).

The Paris Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP21), with its global commitment to keeping  average global temperature  under 2 degrees Celsius and as close to 1.5 degrees as possible, sets the desired milestone for most of the parties, including Indonesia. Now is the time to act on it, and at the same time, to continue to think critically.

Indonesia’s adaptation and mitigation concerns emphasise energy, water and land-based issues.  The latter include forests, peatlands, agriculture, and biodiversity – on which political economy comes to play.

Indonesia’s own commitment (its NDC – or Nationally Determined Contribution) reflects the importance of forests and peatlands as well as anticipates the country’s quickly accelerating energy use.   Whereas forests and peatlands account for close to 70%  of all Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions, by 2030, energy is likely to catch up,  i.e. through increased transportation.

With Indonesia’s extent of tropical  rain forest (which FAO’s 2010 data puts as 94,432 million ha) remaining, there is no other way to go but to ensure effective implementation of sustainable forest management.  This calls for a ‘nexus’ approach that considers not only the carbon but also the water, energy, and food provided by the forests. In the coastal areas that are battered by erosion, mitigation can only be ensured by safeguarding nature’s own infrastructure, namely the mangroves through restoration and adaptation measures

One may also need to redefine sustainable agri-business with emphasis on the proper use of biodiversity.   Indonesia has relied much on introduced species such as rice, sugar cane, coffee, tea, and even rubber from, respectively, India, Latin American countries, Africa, China, and Brazil. Indonesia’s indigenous plants, such as the multi-purpose sugar palm tree, originating from tropical moist forests, has yet to be developed as proper agribusiness commodity, despite its ability to co-exist with other plants and to  deliver a vast range of ecosystem services.

The problem of adaptation is especially serious for the island nation of Indonesia.  Socioeconomics play a crucial role, especially since decreased food supply associated with climate change does not impact rich communities but poorer folks instead.  Coupled with scarce livelihood resources, this makes for a vicious poverty cycle. Here, again, would be the role for natural forests as a means of adaptation in providing landscape level protection (e.g. from flood and drought) as well as livelihood sourced from non-wood forest products. In other words, sustainable forest management will allow adaptation and mitigation to go hand in hand.

Recurring forest fires in Indonesia has much to do with agriculture in peatlands, especially for palm oil production.  Oil palm companies’ tend to raze and burn degraded forest land (once the commercially lucrative timber has been extracted) as a cheap and easy way of clearing the land for oil palm plantations. However, the fires take hold deep in the peat-based soil and smoulder for weeks or months, and local authorities lack the capability to restrain the fires

The newly established Peat Restoration Agency, reporting directly to the President, is a welcome initiative.  To achieve results, it needs to prioritise its work given the limited time and financial resources available. Priority areas for restoration, for which peatland rewetting technology will be important,  have been identified; namely Jambi, Riau, Sumatera Selatan, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan and Papua. As a matter of course, restoration has to involve local communities and local NGOs, as well as being oriented for developing biologically diverse livelihoods.  Unfortunately, due to ‘palm oil fever’, local people have been abandoning their traditional lifestyle.

Recently President Joko Widodo imposed a moratorium on palm oil plantation expansion on peatlands and high carbon value forests. A transformation of agricultural practise is therefore on its way towards strenghtened sustainability.

In conclusion, Indonesia has a lot to do in order to  deal with in mitigation and adaptation.  With the importance for energy switch and land use reforms, there must also be a realisation that Indonesia is a mega diversity country with rich ecosystems (57  types  in terrestrial ecosystem according to Indonesia’s senior botanist, Dr. Kuswata Kartawinata), and needs to   sustainably utilise  ecosystem goods and services, and  to restore ecosystems accordingly.


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