Preparing to attend a global environmental summit in Brazil next week, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Wednesday said Indonesia had “reversed course” from the rapid deforestation of previous decades, while acknowledging the conservation challenges still faced.
“Our forestry policy was to allow anyone to cut our forests so long as it gave benefits to development,” Yudhoyono said in a speech on “sustainable growth with equity” at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Bogor on Wednesday. “It seemed the logical thing to do back then [in the 1970s and 1980s]. We had lots of forests; we had to reduce poverty; we needed to grow our economy.”
Yudhoyono said the demands of a larger and growing global population had since made such policies untenable.
“The problem is, our natural ecosystems and regenerating bio-capacity are being severely degraded, therefore compromising the ability of the planet to sustain life,” he said.
“That’s why Indonesia has reversed course by committing to sustainable forestry.”
Yudhoyono touted policy initiatives of his administration including a moratorium on permit issuances on primary natural forests and peatlands. That policy has proven difficult to enforce, as a government investigation recently revealed.
“I am also heartened by the progress of the One Billion Indonesia Trees for the World program,” Yudhoyono said, referring to a pledge made in 2010 to plant 1 billion trees annually. “In the past two years we have planted some 3.2 billion trees — not 3.2 million, but 3.2 billion trees.”
Indonesia’s forests cover 69 percent of the archipelago and host some of the planet’s richest biodiversity. But the country’s rainforests have also seen some the world’s fastest rates of deforestation in recent years, the result of a host of factors such as palm oil plantations’ expansion and illegal logging.
Yudhoyono said on Wednesday that deforestation rates had declined from 3.5 million hectares a decade ago to less than 0.5 million hectares. “We have to do more, of course,” he added.
Frances Seymour, CIFOR’s director general, expressed his appreciation for Yudhoyono, saying the president had taken a political risk by becoming the first head of state to voluntarily announce his intention to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The vast majority of Indonesia’s carbon emissions are due to deforestation. Yudhoyono has pledged to reduce the nation’s emissions by 26 percent by 2020, and up to 41 percent with assistance from other nations.