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From deforestation to coal use, Indonesia was in the spotlight during the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
The two-week COP26 conference in Glasgow ended with a climate pact which has inspired a wide range of reactions. Many participating nations felt the negotiations were non-inclusive and non-transparent. Yet some applauded the COP26 president for being conscientious in balancing the competing demands of various states in reaching the deal.
The conference was at least able to address the carbon market rules associated with Article 6 of the 2015 Paris Agreement. However, at the last minute, India – backed by China and other coal-reliance nations – pushed for a revision to change the promise to “phase out” coal into “phase down” in the final resolution. The change stirred up critical disappointment from many, as it signaled just how fragile the collective climate efforts are.
China and India, emerging economies and large industrial nations, are the world’s top two coal-producing states. That will make it difficult for them to fully move away from using coal in the coming decades. India’s envoy to COP26 expressed the importance of understanding national circumstances in reaching global climate goals, as for a country like India (and many other developing nations), bringing people out of poverty remains the utmost priority.
Indonesia is also one of the world’s major coal exporters, which reportedly generated $38 billion in export earnings in the first semester of 2021 alone. Despite the commitment to stop building new coal-fired power plants by 2056, Indonesia will continue to use, produce, and consume coal as a primary energy source in supporting the nation’s fast-growing economic development.
At the final stage of the COP26 negotiations, Indonesia acknowledged the unbalanced outcome in the climate pact. Yet, Indonesia welcomed the progress made in elaborating the Paris rulebook and said it was ready to work on concrete implementation of the agreed document. Indonesia invited all nations to fulfill their pledges or promises with a spirit of togetherness and global collaboration with some flexibilities and compromises. Jakarta also pushed for higher ambitions in the nearer future.
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One of the key issues for COP26 was deforestation. Indonesia’s government has pledged to reach carbon neutrality in the forest sector by 2030, yet does not define that goal as a commitment to end deforestation. Initially, there were misleading perceptions of Indonesia’s decision to sign the COP26 pledge, but Indonesia’s environment minister publicly tweeted that the goal of zero deforestation is incompatible with the crucial need for Indonesia to make vibrant economic progress. Indonesia is prioritizing realistic, fair, and appropriate treatment of the deforestation issue.
Indonesian forest management has always attracted foreign donors and other stakeholders as a potential solution to reduce climate change impacts and provide alternative revenue for the country. This premise has long been reflected in the concept of Reducing Emission on Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)+, which first emerged in 2007. Indonesia’s stance on other important climate areas was also highly awaited at COP26.
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Accordingly, Indonesia President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s appearance at COP26 received a great deal of global attention. In his speech, Jokowi told the international community that “Deforestation rates have dropped significantly [in Indonesia] – the lowest in the last twenty years. Forest fires fell by 82 percent in 2020.” Jokowi also touted Indonesia’s efforts to rehabilitate 600,000 hectares of mangrove forest after having rehabilitated 3 million hectare from 2010 to 2019. “The [forestry] sector, which originally contributed 60 percent of Indonesia’s emissions, will reach a carbon net sink by 2030,” Jokowi pledged.
Indonesia is also promoting a social forestry program, although it has been difficult to measure the sustainability impact. The dualistic nature of Indonesia’s approach to deforestation and land use sparked interesting debates in global environmental forums, with some claiming Indonesia was not doing enough and others emphasizing the economic importance of the sector to Indonesia.
One progressive and long-standing policy of cutting deforestation in Indonesia is the moratorium on clearing primary forests, which contributed to a 45 percent drop in deforestation within moratorium areas in 2018 compared to 2002-2016. Jokowi extended this policy by making the moratorium permanent.
The other influential climate policy coming from Indonesia has been providing “green sukuk” (Islamic bonds) and Climate Budget Tagging (CBT) as innovative tools for climate finance. Both policies were initiated by Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who serves as the co-chair of the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action.
The forest and energy sectors are two leading sources of livelihood in Indonesia, while also being the country’s top two emitters. As part of Indonesia’s commitment to see carbon emissions peak in 2030, tackling deforestation will cut emissions by 60 percent, while transitioning to cleaner energy sources will yield 38 percent. The faster reforestation and renewable energy are implemented in Indonesia, the greater impact for the country’s low carbon development.
Creating ambitious climate goals is inevitably claimed as the goal of the COP process. But this has not been an effective approach in developing global climate governance. It took two decades just to develop clear guidance for each countries’ emission reduction commitments. COP has all too often seen climate policy progress stall out due to the voluntary nature of commitments and political tensions among countries. Rather than setting higher goals, then, Indonesia should first focus on consistently seeing through the real implementation of its existing commitments on climate change and disaster risk-preparedness.
After COP26, there are two main follow-up climate actions that Indonesia should push ahead. First, the Indonesian government should pursue integration and coherence between the Glasgow Climate Pact and domestic efforts or initiatives related to climate change. This integration can be facilitated through optimizing and improving the digital platforms for public consultation.
Second, Indonesia must embrace the spirit of inclusive collaboration and engagement of diverse stakeholders. In particular, the Indonesian government should make sure that young people are working hand-in-hand with local authorities, environmental NGOs, and the private sector, whether through youth parliaments or a youth-focused green talent system. This can be implemented during Indonesia’s leadership when it holds the G-20 presidency in 2022 and ASEAN chairmanship in 2023.
Thomas Noto Suoneto is a foreign policy analyst and host of Foreign Policy Talks Podcast.
Gracia Paramitha is the co-chair of Youth20(Y20) Indonesia 2022 and lecturer at LSPR Communication and Business Institute Jakarta.
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