Planet in peril – urgent action needed in UNFCCC meeting in Bali

Updated On: Oct 30, 2007

As more evidence of the dangers of climate change emerged, policy makers and environmentalists are focusing their attention on what can be achieved from the next meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The UNFCCC meeting is to be held in Bali on 3-14 December 2007.  

This is a meeting of great significance for global environmentalism. A number of developed countries would send between 30 to 40 negotiators each for the Bali conference, which will have some 800 sessions. This is joined by more than 40 officials from some 36 Asian and African countries plus experts from the United Nations. Indonesia, the host of the meeting, is expected to focus on four main issues: the Baliroad map; the establishment of an institutional mechanism for an adaptation fund; the establishment of a body to regulate technology transfer; and the reduction of emissions from deforestation in developing countries (REDD) scheme. Talks on the Bali road map are aimed to deliver breakthroughs on a new international climate change agreement after the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012. Yvo de Boer, secretary general of the UNFCCC, said that "negotiators are ready to begin serious negotiations in Bali to develop a post-2012 climate change regime."

Indonesia also hopes that developing countries can learn from each other. "Officials in Asian and African countries can learn from UN experts and best practices in other countries in developing climate change policy," said M. Aji Surya, an Indonesian Foreign Ministry official and organizing committee member. "Each country has unique problems, but we can learn from each other to enhance our knowledge and skills in dealing with climate change." Indonesia, an influential member of the Asian-Africa summit, is trying to solidify unity among developing countries ahead of the Bali conference and has initiated the establishment of a 11-member grouping of forest countries -- BrazilCameroonCosta RicaColumbiaCongo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, GabonMalaysiaPapua New Guinea and Peru for this purpose. Indonesian government is trying to create this grouping in a bid to pressure richer nations to provide money and other incentives to reduce carbon emissions.

More importantly, Indonesia wants developed nations to pay for environmental bills in developing countries like itself. Jakarta has in the last few months repeatedly demanded that wealthy nations foot the bill for developing nations to preserve their forests, mainly through incentives like carbon credits. The environment minister of Indonesia, Rachmat Witoelar, said earlier in October 2007 that he wanted rich countries to pay as much as $20 a hectare, or 2.47 acres, for it to preserve its dwindling forests. "We can't do this alone," said Indonesia's deputy environment minister, Masnellyarti Hilman. "Developed countries need to help us because they have the money, the financing and the technology. We need their help if we are going reduce emissions and not sacrifice our future development."

Indonesia’s role is crucial in the Bali meeting because of Southeast Asia’s vulnerabilities to problems in the natural environment. "There are many archipelagos in South-east Asia that are vulnerable to a rise in sea levels, and some countries are also located within the typhoon belt," said Mr Rafael Senga, coordinator of Asia-Pacific energy policy in WWF International. "Deforestation is a problem in Indonesia, thePhilippinesMyanmar and Cambodia." "The Coral Triangle, shared by IndonesiaMalaysia and the Philippines, is vulnerable to coral bleaching caused by rising sea temperatures and will affect regional fisheries," added Mr Senga, who is based in the Philippines.

Indonesia itself is a perpetuator of environmental problems. The emerging picture is one of concerted efforts amid complex environmental problems in Indonesia, whose seasonal haze, produced by forest fires, affects the region. Indonesia has been criticised for not ratifying the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. Indonesia is also battling related problems such as deforestation and illegal logging.Indonesia seems to be taking some actions by combating forest crime, also linked to corruption. Indonesia is the only country in the world that has included forest crime such as illegal logging, in its anti-money-laundering laws.

Domestically, Indonesia has been tardy about naming its own negotiators to the table, four days before the deadline to submit names for the upcoming conference on climate change in Bali. Emil Salim, head of the Indonesian delegation for the Bali conference, said Friday that he still needed to discuss the issue with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and related ministers before naming the team. "I will soon meet the President to report the results of the Bogor meeting and discuss the negotiation team for the Bali talks," Emil, also a presidential advisor on environmental affairs, told reporters. "I believe that we can meet the deadline," he said.

While Indonesian government bodies have made modest attempts to regulate logging and mining, business investment and economic survival continue to trump environmental protection. Poor infrastructure, official corruption and weaknesses in the judicial system have stalled gains in combating environmental crime, especially illegal logging.

Internationally, there are some underlying differences that Indonesia has with developed countries like Australia. In the September 2007 meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Sydney,Australia proposed a voluntary scheme for achieving emissions cuts in both developed and developing countries. The scheme met with opposition from most other countries and Indonesia was one of the leading opposition. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has reiterated that developing countries should reach emissions reduction targets voluntarily, despite objections by Australia. "Developing countries, on the other hand, should participate voluntary in reducing their national greenhouse gas emissions according to their national circumstances," he said.

The Indonesian President also insists that rich nations should provide resources, eco-friendly technologies and financial support to developing nations to cope with impact of human-induced climate change. "It is only logical that developed countries should continue taking the lead in significantly reducing carbon emissions," he said. This is a sensitive topic for Indonesia since it is the world's third largest greenhouse gas emitter with a total of 3,014 million tons, mostly due to forest fires.

By going against developed states and demanding that advanced countries pay for its bills, Indonesia herself is under attack from international organizations that tell the island archipelago state to set its own environmental record straight as well. A World Bank report released in 2007 cited Indonesia as one of the top three emitters of greenhouse gases, mostly due to rampant cutting of its forests, persistent wildfires and cultivation of its carbon-rich peat bogs and industrialization and mining are also major contributors to carbon emissions in the nation. The shrinking forests are thought to contribute to its year-round chronic disasters such as drought, floods and landslides. The Indonesian disaster management agency has linked nearly 500 landslides over the past decade to logging practices. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Indonesia is losing its forests faster than any other country in the world. Every day, 51 square kilometers, or 19.7 square miles, of forest are cleared, legally or illegally.

Indonesia also faces questioning from international environmental NGO groups. Greenpeace Southeast Asia urged Yudhoyono to demonstrate more leadership by presenting a clear agenda with the issues that are important to Indonesia and the world. Maria Athena Ronquillo Ballesteros, a Greenpeace Southeast Asia climate and energy representative, said Indonesia should avoid turning the Bali conference into a "circus of issues" by allowing voluntarily-type commitments to interfere with a "serious discussion of Kyoto's nature as a legally binding treaty", she told a news gathering. Ballesteros said it would be fruitless to base emission reduction efforts on a voluntary scheme, since parties can drop out at any time without suffering any consequence. Greenpeace Indonesia political adviser Arief Wicaksono also said if Yudhoyono wanted Indonesia to benefit from the world spotlight in Bali, the President should be brave enough to take action on behalf of developing countries and the world as a whole. He could begin by announcing a total ban on peatland conversion in Indonesia.

The ultimate question is even if Indonesia is paid $5-$20 per hectare not to destroy its remaining forests, how would Indonesia guarantee that its widespread corruption would ensure that the money would trickle down to environmental protection on the ground? Indonesia’s environmental minister simply did not say how the country, which already has difficulty with law enforcement due to corruption, would ensure that its forests would not continue to be destroyed under such a scheme. (29 October 2007)


Greens: RI should lead in Bali (Jakarta Post, 27 Oct 2007)

UN: US, Australia ready to negotiate new climate change treaty (AP, 27 October 2007)

RI climate negotiators still not named (Jakarta Post, 27 Oct 2007)

Climate change: a tangled web (Today, 27 Oct 2007)

Asean and its green ambitions (Today, 27 Oct 2007)

Asian, African states to meet for climate talks (Jakarta Post, 26 Oct 2007)

Indonesia asks for conservation funds (IHT, 26 October 2007)

Countries ready for serious negotiation in Bali: UN (AFP, 26 October 2007)

Indonesia to sign $10 bln energy deals (Reuters, 26 October 2007)

Emissions cuts should be voluntary, says Yudhoyono (Jakarta Post, 25 Oct 2007)

'Indonesia brings countries together' (Jakarta Post, 25 Oct 2007)

Developing nations have emissions role Indonesia (Reuters, 24 October 2007)