Yesterday, Indonesia’s President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, promised that he would “dedicate the last three years of my term as President to deliver enduring results that will sustain and enhance the environment and forests of Indonesia”.
He made the comments at “Forests Indonesia Conference: Alternative futures to meet demands for food, fibre, fuel and REDD+”, organised by the Centre for International Forestry Research in Jakarta. Yudhoyono’s promise was warmly welcomed by many of the speakers at the conference and several of them referred to it their speeches.
Ten years ago this would have been unthinkable: A conference on forests in Jakarta opened by the president, featuring speeches from Environment Ministers from the UK and Norway, the World Bank, Indonesia’s Minister of Forestry, CIFOR, representatives from corporations and NGOs, and attended by more than one thousand people. There is no doubt that the forest issue is now on the agenda.
As REDD-Monitor has pointed out previously, Yudhoyono likes to make promises. In his opening speech, President Yudhoyono mentioned a promise he made in 2009, at the G8 meeting in Pittsburgh. “Indonesia will voluntarily reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent from business-as-usual levels by 2020,” he said and added that since then many initiatives have been carried out. Presumably, to reach that target emissions must be reduced by a certain percentage each year. But Yudhoyono did not explain whether Indonesia was on target to meet this goal.
He also did not mention that he promised 41 per cent cuts if international support if forthcoming. Given the international support to REDD in Indonesia, it is perhaps surprising that Yudhoyono is still talking about the 26 percent target. In any case, as Yuyun Indradi, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace, pointed out,
“Although the Indonesian government listed forestry as pivotal to the efforts of reducing emissions, since Yudhoyono announced his commitment to reduce emissions, by 26 to 41 percent in 2009 mainly from the forestry sector, the forest conditions have not gotten better.”
Andrew Steer, the special envoy for climate change at the World Bank, started his speech with an anecdote about the 1980s. “There was a time,” he said, “when a very famous environment minister in this country, Emil Salim, asked the World Bank in 1980, ‘Could you please help us on our environment?’ And tragically, the World Bank said, ‘We don’t do environment.'”
Predictably, Steer did not mention what the World Bank did fund in Indonesia during the 1980s. He could have mentioned the Bank’s US$560 million support for the disastrous Transmigration programme, a programme that had devastating impacts on Indonesia’s indigenous peoples and their forests.
And he could have mentioned that in 1983, the World Bank hired the world’s biggest forestry consulting firm, Jaakko Pöyry to produce a Master Plan for Indonesian Pulp and Paper Industry. At the time, Indonesia had no pulp and paper industry to speak of. Thanks in part to the World Bank, the industry has now chipped its way through millions of hectares of Indonesia’s forests.
“How times have changed,” Steer continued. “The World Bank Group is now in more than 130 countries working on climate change.” Predictably, Steer did not mention that the World Bank is in the business of accelerating climate change. He could have mentioned the World Bank’s US$3.75 billion loan in South Africa to build what will be the world’s fourth largest coal plant.
Predictably, Steer did talk about carbon trading. “The Kyoto Protocol ends at the end of next year. Carbon markets therefore are currently in disarray.” Steer seems oblivious to the latest round of financial meltdowns, to the fraud in the carbon markets in the EU, as well as the fact that carbon trading does not reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
He predicts that in 2015, “the world will have to make much deeper commitments,” to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“And then the world will say, we want make those commitments to lower carbon emissions in a cheaper way. And that’s where carbon markets come in. Because it costs less than half, often, if you use carbon offset markets. So my prediction is that we will find a very robust carbon market four years from today.”
In his speech, Steer explains that the World Bank has about 200 people working full time on carbon markets. Steer recommends that Indonesia should aim to capture a share of the carbon offset billions that he predicts will start flowing after 2015. “But only if we do the homework right now,” he said, sounding more than a little neo-colonial. “If we develop the methodologies for monitoring if we get the governance right, if we create a context of predictability. If we fail, then forests may continue to be relatively excluded from these markets.”
So, while we should welcome Yudhoyono’s latest commitment to saving Indonesia’s forests, we should also keep a close eye on whether it means any more than his previous commitments. Meanwhile the World Bank’s obsession with promoting carbon markets has nothing to do with sorting Indonesia’s ongoing policy incoherence.
That policy incoherence was dramatically illustrated in the days before the conference. On 6 September 2011, the Ministry of Forestry issued a new ruling: 62/Menhut/II/2011 (pdf file 52 KB, in bahasa Indonesia), that reclassified oil palm plantations as forestry plantations (HTI). Under the decree, oil palm plantations would be classified as forest and therefore conversion of forests to oil palm plantations would not constitute deforestation. Indonesia’s forest area statistics could even increase as the are of oil palm plantations increased.
Analysts from Credit Suisse wrote that, “We foresee that the potential impact of this new decree, if it is fully implemented, is there may be additional areas for new palm oil planting in the future.” But as Greenpeace pointed out, the reality is that the decree would mean further destruction of Indonesia’s forests and peatlands. “This is clearly contrary to the commitment of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for Indonesia to reduce emissions 41 percent by 2020,” said Bustar Maitar, Greenpeace forest campaigner in a press release. Greenpeace demanded that Ministry of Forestry should withdraw the decree.
And then, on 26 September 2011, the day before the CIFOR conference, the Ministry of Forestry withdrew the decree. We will probably never know whether this is a sign that Yudhoyono actually is taking his commitment to protect Indonesia’s forests seriously.
UPDATE – 30 September 2011: Sentence amended to make clear that the figure of 200 people working full time at the World Bank on carbon markets came from Andrew Steer. Thanks to Sam Lawson for asking about this in the comments.