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Imagine Indonesia with Restored Forests, Mangroves

This article was published by The Jakarta Post on October 28, 2019.

There is a long and happy history of presidents, in their second term, leaving a distinguished and long-lasting environmental legacy.

Former United States president Theodore Roosevelt, in the early 20th century, was responsible for establishing 230 million acres of protected public lands — of which 150 million were designated as national forests. In addition, Roosevelt established 51 bird or national wildlife reserves, the National Park Service, and at least five major new national parks. His environmental legacy is still celebrated in the US today.

In the early 21st century, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, for whom one of us worked, established a similar legacy — with at least 4 million hectares of new protected areas established in his highly biodiverse country, as well as a suite of other positive environmental measures.

Santos spoke eloquently about his vision of peace in Colombia being based on a harmonious relationship of custodianship with Colombia’s forests, valleys, marine ecosystems and mountains — as well as with the country’s variety of indigenous cultures, which had been gravely affected by the conflict.

As President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo embarks on his second term in office, we hope he too will feel inspired to leave an environmental legacy to be proud of to his children and grandchildren, as well as to all Indonesians across the country’s astonishingly culturally and biologically diverse archipelago.

The President would be building on a series of impressive environmental achievements in his first term of office, including the establishment of a series of moratoriums on primary forest and peatland conversion, as well as strong progress in tackling marine pollution and overfishing. His government also established a strong national policy framework to this end, the so-called Low Carbon Development Initiative prepared by the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas).

In pursuing even greater ambition in President Jokowi’s second term, Indonesia could be a beacon to the world, at a time when environmental leadership is sorely needed. It could also inspire other countries in the region, as well as in the Group of 20, to raise their game.

Here are four respectful suggestions, among many potential avenues of action, which could form part of this positive environmental legacy:

• Pursue an alternative development path in Indonesia’s highly forested provinces. The four provinces of Aceh, North Kalimantan, Papua and West Papua remain home to some of the world’s most important valuable tropical rainforests (as well as marine ecosystems).

The leaders of these provinces have expressed their desire to pursue an alternative development path to the plantation and natural resource extraction economy.

If there were financial support from the national government, in the form of “ecological fiscal transfers” rewarding this positive environmental commitment, to enable this alternative trajectory to be realized, that would make a wonderful contribution.

• End the forest fires and incentivize those who manage the land to no longer use fire as means of managing the land. The work of the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) has made encouraging advances in recent years in protecting and restoring Indonesia’s globally important peatlands: This work needs to be deepened and consolidated in President Jokowi’s second term, to the benefit of Indonesia’s smallholder farmers as well as all Indonesians who have suffered the health and economic impact of the fires.

• Tackle air pollution in the cities, with a full-frontal effort to establish viable public transport systems, cycle lanes, pedestrian areas and stronger environmental regulation of polluting industries in urban areas. This effort to make Indonesia’s cities greener, safer and more pleasant to live in, would be part of a broader effort to pursue renewable energy and a low carbon energy transition in the country.

• Finally, continue the President’s efforts to manage the ocean more sustainably, with more marine protected areas, better management of Indonesia’s marine fisheries, a wholesale effort to stem the tide of plastic flowing into the ocean, and a moratorium on the further loss of Indonesia’s precious mangroves.

If President Jokowi and his new Cabinet were able to tackle these four abiding challenges head-on, over the next five years, their contribution to the well-being of all Indonesia’s people would be immense. Effort across these four areas is entirely consistent with President Jokowi’s five priorities set out in his inauguration speech, in particular, economic development.

It would also be a deeply valuable contribution to the global effort to protect biodiversity and mitigate and adapt to the world’s dramatically changing climate. All of us who have the privilege to work in Indonesia on these issues, in partnership with the Indonesian people, wish him every success in his environmental endeavors over the years to come.

The world has much to learn from Indonesia — and Indonesia could provide great inspiration to the world in the years ahead.


Nirarta Samadhi is director of World Resources Institute Indonesia. Edward Davey is director of the Geographic Deep Dives of The Food and Land Use Coalition.

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