Indonesia Sets New Climate Goals, But Are They Attainable?

For Indonesia, the world’s top producer of palm oil, greenhouse gas emissions is a big problem. Thirty-seven percent of the country’s emissions come from deforestation — a process that has in the past supported the country’s industrial expansion, but also draws stark criticism from environmentalists. Another 27 percent of the country’s GHGs is generated from peat fires, with a prolonged burn that not only increases smog, but also heightens concern for global warming

This week, the government of Indonesia announced that it’s upping its effort to reduce carbon emissions, modifying its 2020 goal of 26 percent unilaterally to a 29 percent cut by 2030. It’s a bold aim for a country that still has significant challenges with meeting its earlier goals, and as Reuters recently noted, the government has yet to indicate how this will be accomplished.

In 2009, U.N.-REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) launched a number of projects that were aimed at preserving some of Indonesia’s substantial forests, including international support and commitments at reducing peat fires. At the present time, some 60 REDD-supported initiatives are various stages of activity in Indonesia, all with the goal of helping the country to fulfill its GHG goals.

NASA capture of forest fires from the Island of Sumatra in 2014.

But critics argue that Indonesia has not taken steps to reduce its carbon footprint in substantial ways.

Last month President Joko Widodo initiated a new coal plant that is expected to be the largest in the region. The new project is part of Indonesia’s effort to raise its current power production by another 52,000 megawatts within the next five years. But it also reflects continued difference of opinion between Indonesia and some international partners on the best path to reaching its GHG goals.

In comparison to other countries with substantial tropical forests, Indonesia’s former commitment to cut GHGs by 26 percent by 2020 was considered a moderate attempt to rectify a huge environmental challenge.

That may be part of the reason that Indonesia is now stepping forward with an even bolder commitment, months before the start of the U.N. Conference of Parties in Paris, where a global climate change agreement will be brought to the table. Countries that have contributed to Indonesia’s stated efforts to reduce emissions will ask questions about the best way to both protect its vitally important crop production, and reduce its ongoing contributions to worsening climate change.

Image credits: 1) Flickr/a_rabin 2) Flickr/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center