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Indonesia’s energy, agriculture targets could undermine its climate goals: report

  • Indonesia, a top carbon polluter, has pledged to reduce emissions by at least 29% over business-as-usual levels by 2030.
  • At the same time, the country has set ambitious water, food and energy security goals.
  • A new report looks at where these goals might conflict.

Indonesia will have to address a number of inconsistencies between its climate policies and some of its sector development plans if it wants to cut emissions in line with its commitments, according to a new report on the implementation of REDD+ in the country.

The report, titled Lessons From REDD+ for Achieving Water, Energy and Food Security in Indonesia, was funded by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network and conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society in partnership with the Global Canopy Programme.

The authors look at the various development targets Indonesia has set and how they support or conflict with its climate change goals. The archipelagic country promised last December at the UN climate summit in Paris to reduce emissions by 29%, or by 41% with international assistance, against a business-as-usual scenario by 2030.

At the same time, Indonesia has set targets for achieving water, energy and food security for its growing population of 250 million people. In some ways, these targets are in harmony with its efforts to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. In other ways, though, they threaten to undermine its climate and conservation agendas.

Illegal deforestation in Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Illegal deforestation in Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Take energy. Indonesia has declared its intention to dramatically increase renewables to 23% of the national energy mix by 2025. The plan is to boost investment in geothermal, hydropower and biofuels. This will require land. Accordingly, the energy and forestry ministries are in talks about allocating forest area for energy estate crops and for geothermal and hydropower production.

But the report points out that, unlike the national climate policies, the energy ministry’s strategic plan “does not explicitly prioritize the role of forests as ‘natural infrastructure’ or recognise the risk to dams of sedimentation resulting from upstream deforestation and degradation.”

Or take agriculture. Indonesia aims to increase the production of rice, maize, soy, sugar, beef and fisheries products. This too will require land. Accordingly, the agriculture ministry is trying to identify up to 2 million hectares (7,700 square miles) for agriculture development.

While the report acknowledges that the ministry officially recognizes the potential of degraded land for agricultural development, it also points to signs that the production targets are fueling deforestation. In heavily forested Papua province, 1.2 million hectares of “mostly forest” have been allocated for food crops and palm oil plantations as part of the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate. The government plans to proceed with similar megaprojects in Borneo island.

The report notes that while Indonesia wants to be self-sufficient in rice production, the total area under rice cultivation is actually shrinking due to conversion to other uses.

Borneo orangutan. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
A critically endangered Borneo orangutan. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

The demand for land from the energy and agriculture sectors contrasts with the government’s position that 87% of emissions reductions must come from the forestry and peatland sectors. Indonesia’s vast peat swamp zones have been widely drained and dried for palm oil and pulpwood production, a big reason why the country is a top carbon polluter. The practice creates the conditions for the annual megafires that were especially devastating during last year’s extended dry season.

“Climate policies successfully articulate a number of strategies to minimize these potential trade-offs, for example prioritizing agricultural development on degraded land and no burning,” according to the report. “However, whilst some of these strategies are reflected in land-use planning by other ministries and sectors, climate change mitigation objectives and strategies are not clearly articulated or prioritized in the relevant strategic sector plans.”

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