Jokowi in hot seat to halt rapid deforestation

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has come under pressure at major United Nations-led climate talks in Paris to do more to halt rapid deforestation and step up efforts to tackle annual forest and land fires.

His closely-watched address on Monday to more than 150 other world leaders and thousands of delegates was a disappointment to many non-governmental organisastions (NGOs). In his speech, he announced no new measures to preserve Indonesia's dwindling rainforests, which are being cleared mainly to expand agriculture, mining and infrastructure.

It was hoped that he would announce a detailed presidential instruction, currently under negotiation by his government, that would further protect and restore Indonesia's badly degraded carbon-rich peatlands.

Mr Joko's speech was "no worse but certainly no better than most of the others", said Mr Doug Boucher, director of Tropical Forests & Climate Initiative, of the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists think-tank.

"It didn't have a really major announcement and it didn't have a recognition that the world was expecting Indonesia to do more," he told The Straits Times yesterday on the sidelines of the climate conference, where forests are seen as a key way to put the brakes on climate change.

There is still hope that Mr Jokowi will announce a more detailed set of rules that includes plans to re-wet large areas of dried-out peat and to block up an estimated 2 million km of canals that companies and illegal loggers have built to drain peatlands.

In his speech, Mr Joko told delegates his government has moved to restore peat by establishing a peat restoration agency. This had previously been announced.

"His landmark pledge to protect and restore peatlands, if given the force of law, could do much towards cutting Indonesia's emissions," Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner Teguh Surya said in a statement.

"But by failing to announce any new protection for forests, he is allowing the juggernaut of deforestation to roll on, guaranteeing future bouts of devastating forest fires."

Since 1990, Indonesia has lost 31 million ha of rainforest, an area nearly the size of Germany.

Indonesia has the world's third-largest extent of tropical rainforests and the majority of tropical peatlands. When cleared and drained, the peatland releases large amounts of planet-warming greenhouse gases over decades. Draining them also primes them for intense fires that can burn for weeks, releasing a thick choking haze.

This year's fires propelled Indonesia to become the biggest carbon polluter after the United States and China.

NGOs also point to Indonesia's perennial problem of poor law enforcement.

"If Indonesia's emission reduction targets are to be seen as credible, the Jokowi administration must step up law enforcement," Rainforest Foundation Norway's head of South-east Asia and Oceania Division Anja Lillegraven said in an e-mail yesterday.

Indonesia has pledged to reduce emissions by 29 per cent from business-as-usual levels by 2030.

This article was first published on December 2, 2015.
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