World's Worst Emitter Seeks Funds in Paris to Tackle Peat Fires

Indonesia Seeks Funds to Restore Forests
  • Indonesia wants $3.6 billion to restore carbon-rich peatlands
  • Widodo needs to show more detailed plan on deforestation

President Joko Widodo is using a meeting of leaders in Paris on climate change to seek funds to restore Indonesia’s forests, after fires turned the country into the world’s worst polluter in recent months.

QuickTake Deforestation

But while the Paris talks could produce broad agreements for the leaders present, Widodo may come up short on funds unless he produces more detailed plans on how to reduce mass deforestation of peat forests, and on boosting clean energy, said Fabby Tumiwa, director at the Jakarta-based Institute for Essential Services Reform.

Like some other emerging market countries, Indonesia has tied progress on tackling climate change and environmental devastation to help from others. While the country has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 29 percent from a business-as-usual scenario by 2030, it says with international assistance it could achieve a 41 percent reduction.

Widodo, known as Jokowi, joins more than 140 world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama and Xi Jinping of China in Paris in an effort to reach the first truly global deal to curb the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Most of Indonesia’s emissions come from destroying carbon-rich peat forests to be replaced by plantations, with recent fires burning an area four times the size of Bali island and sending a hazy smog across the region.

“The government has to be transparent and honest in giving an explanation,” said Tumiwa, adding the struggle to prevent the perennial fires could reflect badly on Jokowi in Paris. “The disaster will also open opportunities for other countries to assist, as long as Indonesia has action planning.’’

Failed Efforts

While Jokowi promised in September to extinguish the worst of the forest fires within weeks, government efforts to seed rainclouds and arrest perpetrators proved ineffectual until monsoon rains doused the blazes in November. Indonesia, which has some of the world’s largest and oldest rainforests, was slow to accept regional help in firefighting and declined to name most companies involved, creating tension with neighbor Singapore.

The nation’s total daily carbon dioxide emissions exceeded those of the U.S. on 47 of the 74 days through Oct. 28, according to an analysis of national emissions data from the World Resources Institute in Washington and Indonesian fire-emissions data from VU University in Amsterdam. The fires were worsened by dry conditions from El Nino.

Indonesia says it needs 50 trillion rupiah ($3.6 billion) to restore and protect its peat, a young form of coal that can smolder for months. It is seeking up to $1 billion from Norway as well as funding from the U.S., U.K. and World Bank for a peat restoration body. Jokowi held meetings with leaders from Norway, the Netherlands, Japan and India on Monday.

“To reach a Paris deal, all parties, I repeat, all parties have to contribute more in mitigation and adaptation actions, in particular developed countries,” Jokowi said in a speech in Paris on Monday. “El Nino that was hot and dry has made the effort of mitigation very difficult, but it can be resolved.”

Renewable Energy

Pledges by Indonesia to limit emissions caused by agriculture, forestry and other land uses lack concrete measures for tackling deforestation, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists released last month.

Jokowi should also show how the country will achieve a goal of a 23 percent share of renewable energy in its energy mix in 2025, said Tumiwa. Southeast Asia’s biggest economy lags neighbors such as Thailand and the Philippines in the number of renewable energy projects.

Renewable energy projects
Renewable energy projects

There is already an Indonesian moratorium on new permits to develop natural forests and bans on using deep peatlands or large-scale burning, yet weak law enforcement and widespread corruption mean the laws are routinely overlooked. Jokowi, who majored in forestry, has pledged to issue a decree banning all land burning and use of peatlands.

“We need to see President Jokowi make good on his promise,” said Rusmadya Maharuddin, a Greenpeace forest campaigner. “He must codify zero deforestation in law, by strengthening the existing moratorium on forest and peatland development to include secondary forests and forests inside existing concessions.”

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