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Indonesia shifts emissions-reduction burden from energy to forestry sector

Rainforest in Bukit Tigapuluh. Ecosystem restoration concessions are garnering increased interest from conservationists as a means to protect wildlife habitat in Indonesia. Like a logging concession, an ecosystem restoration license is granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to a company for a set amount of time — in this case 60 years. The company is then responsible for managing the concession to maintain and restore forest cover. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

  • Ahead of the UN climate summit in Paris last year, Indonesia pledged to reduce its emissions growth by 29 percent over business-as-usual levels by 2030, or by 41 percent with adequate international aid.
  • Previously, the government had announced that the lion’s share for meeting the commitment would fall on the coal-dependent energy sector.
  • Ahead of the latest climate summit in Morocco, however, Indonesia announced a shift in the breakdown that would see the forestry sector carry the heaviest load.

JAKARTA – Ahead of the recent UN climate summit in the Moroccan capital of Marrakesh, Indonesia shifted the burden for cutting its greenhouse gas emissions from its energy sector to its forestry sector, further solidifying the archipelago nation’s dependency on fossil fuels in the coming years.

Indonesia’s country commitment for reducing its emissions, known as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, was settled last year at 29 percent by 2030, or at 41 percent with adequate foreign aid. Exactly where those cuts will come from, however, has been subject to a longer negotiation between the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources.

Initially, the forestry ministry announced that the coal-dependent energy sector should account for 16 percent out of the promised 29 percent reduction. The forestry sector was to provide a further 7 percent under the confidence that the annual forest and peatland fires could be brought under control in the next 20 years.

In August, though, the energy ministry challenged the forestry ministry’s modeling and data, arguing instead for the use of models produced by the Ministry of National Development Planning. In the end, it was agreed that the forestry sector would account for 17.23 percent of the 29 percent commitment, and 23.13 percent of the 41 percent commitment. Meanwhile, the energy sector would respectively account for 11 percent and 14 percent of those figures.

Nur Masripatin, the forestry ministry’s climate change director, said that like it or not, the sector would have to carry the heaviest load.

“That is the final position,” she said. “If we don’t [reach a decision] then we are not going to get anywhere [with the emissions reduction plan].”

Smoke rising from an area of forest and oil palm in Riau in June 2015. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Toxic smoke rises from an area of forest and oil palm in Indonesia’s Riau province in June 2015. The wildfires that burned across the archipelago last year released more carbon than the entire EU during the same period. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

The new breakdown does not bode well for Indonesia’s renewable energy push, said Leonard Simanjuntak, the head of Greenpeace’s branch in the archipelago. The NGO has raised concerns about President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s ambitious plan to add 35,000 megawatts of power to the existing national grid by 2019, which calls for building 117 new coal-fired plants.

“With the dominance [of coal] in our power plant development, with business as usual, we’re not sure [the NDC] will be achieved,” he said.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar confirmed that the country’s reliance on coal and its infrastructure push had necessitated a greater “tightening” of the forestry sector, calling the new breakdown a result of “heavy negotiations.”

Nevertheless, she underlined that the decision would not affect Indonesia’s position in the international climate negotiations.

“It’s a struggle with coal and other [energy sources] because of [the] 35,000 megawatt [plan],” she said, adding that “clean coal” technologies would be relied upon to reduce emissions in the energy sector. “If there’s a danger [of falling short with regard to the commitment], we’ll keep interacting [between ministries].”

A coal barge floats down the Mahakam River in Indonesia's East Kalimantan province. Photo by Philip Jacobson
A coal barge floats down the Mahakam River in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province. 

Most of Indonesia’s emissions come from land-use change and forestry, according to the World Resources Institute.

Last year’s wildfires emitted more carbon than the entire US economy during the two months they burned the hardest. Preventing another such disaster might not be so easy, warned Soelthon Nanggara, executive director of Forest Watch Indonesia (FWI), an NGO.

While this year’s fires weren’t as bad, that probably had more to do with a season of heavy rains than with the government’s efforts, he said.

“The problem with these commitments is that they are never clear,” he added. “If you’re talking about 17 percent from forestry sector, which parts need to be cut and how you’re going to achieve them? This is also the issue with 26 percent [Indonesia’s emission cut commitment by 2020] — lack of transparency,” he said.

In the eyes of the forestry ministry’s Masripatin, success lies in ensuring that policies the government has already laid out on paper — such as President Jokowi’s ban on new peatland development and the moratorium on new oil palm and coal mining permits — are carried out on the ground.

“If these policies can be implemented consistently —for instance, reducing forest fires — it will eventually reducing emissions,” she said. “However, the challenge is that all stakeholders should support these policies. It won’t work without their roles.”

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