President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is a billion dollar man. With a US$1 billion grant from Norway, he can save the Indonesian natural forests and peatlands, at least for the next two years.
Just before the billion dollar deal was sealed, Yudhoyono made the surprise announcement last week on the commitment of his government to a two-year moratorium on the clearance of forests and peatlands.
We don’t know for sure if the $1 billion grant required the moratorium as a condition. Whatever the reason, we should welcome the moratorium. It is a bold and daring move from the President to announce the moratorium, amid the competing interests for export dollars and poverty alleviation on the one side and environmental protection on the other.
Following the moratorium announcement, we heard from the office of the state environment minister on Tuesday that the government has rightfully delayed the signing of a draft government regulation on peatlands until a presidential regulation on the moratorium is issued.
This moratorium could do a lot of good things for the Indonesian commitment to the environment, including the national commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 2020 by 26 percent from our own resources or by 41 percent with additional international support. Now, this target looks achievable.
The next question is how the government would use the $1 billion grant and what projects might be chosen under a new program. We believe this funding must flow in the right direction, benefiting both the environment and the people, especially those living near the forests and peatlands. They should have an interest to help stop the encroachment on these lands and to help to protect their environment rather than harm it. Involving people nearby these areas in identifying projects and in participation in the management of project activities under the new fund will always be in the best interests of all the parties concerned.
Some quarters have warned the government not to channel this funding to support the development of monocultural plantations or to subsidize the expansion of industrial logging and agribusiness. That poses the next challenge, i.e. how to ensure that these businesses would continue running despite the moratorium, while observing environmental standards.
Indonesia cannot afford a fall in the revenue of its forestry, pulp and paper, palm oil and mining industries, which contribute tens of billions of dollars annually to exports from the country and employ millions of farmers and workers. As a natural resource-based country, Indonesia cannot avoid but to support these industries.
Therefore, we are happy to hear the statement from President Yudhoyono that the moratorium would not affect the palm oil industry.
We need a more comprehensive solution or overall strategy for these resource-based industries, which are often seen as undermining the environment but at the same time provide livelihoods to millions of people. More than that, we need to devise a more comprehensive and longer-term policy beyond the two-year moratorium and beyond the $1 billion grant. But thanks to Norway and the President we are off to a good start.
( Thejakartapost.com, 02/02/10 )