Former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has challenged widely held assumptions that his country's administration does not care about the environment as it develops economically.
Every country, especially developing countries like Indonesia, wants to see its people enjoy greater prosperity, he said at a forum in Singapore.
"They want their economy to grow, but they also want their environment to be preserved," said Dr Yudhoyono at the Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development yesterday.
Indonesia has been widely criticised for its lax pollution controls, especially with annual forest fires, usually lit on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan to clear land for commercial plantations, that have spread hazardous smog and haze across the region.
Dr Yudhoyono, who is the newly elected chairman of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), noted that Indonesia had hosted the United Nations Bali Climate Change Conference in 2007.
This conference resulted in the Bali Action Plan, aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
"It was going to be a long road, full of uncertainty, but I knew we were doing the right thing," he said.
GGGI is an international body that aims to drive "green growth" as a new model of economic growth in developing and emerging countries, targeting economic aspects such as poverty reduction and social inclusion, as well as environmental sustainability.
Dr Yudhoyono added that in 2009, Indonesia was the first developing country to announce a voluntary commitment to reduce its carbon emissions by 26 per cent by 2020, and up to 41 per cent with international support.
The country also launched The Indonesia Climate Change Trust Fund and the Indonesia Green Investment Fund in a bid to address the issues of climate change while aiding growth.
As a result, Indonesia was able to achieve the second-highest economic growth among the Group of 20 (G-20) economies, after China, while "instituting progressive and comprehensive environmental laws", he said.
On the whole, he added, Indonesians are becoming more conscious of the need to protect the environment.
Communities living near forest areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan, for instance, are "increasingly aware of the imperative to protect the forests for their own well-being", he noted.
In his speech, Dr Yudhoyono also warned that businesses and economies are not immune to climate change.
While governments have to demonstrate political will in fostering green growth and sustainability, businesses will play "the central role" in the journey, he said, calling on business leaders to make a greater commitment to green practices and sustainability.
"No one can argue against green growth," he said, adding that it will be a cornerstone of the post-2015 development agenda, which will have to be contributed to and maintained by all segments of society.
"What we do or do not do today will affect the lives of generations to come," he said.
"We are in a race against time and we have a short window of opportunity. It is not a race by a few countries, but by all humanity."
Yesterday marked the end to the three-day forum at Marina Bay Sands, which was organised by five partners, including Singapore-based media firm Global Initiatives.
Some 650 delegates from regional governments, global businesses and non-governmental organisations participated in the event.
This article was first published on Nov 27, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.