Indonesia signals about-face on COP26 deforestation pledge

Environment minister questions the agreement to end deforestation by 2030, calls it ‘inappropriate and unfair’.

Environment minister says definitions of deforestation differ widely and imposing European standards on Indonesia was unfair [File:AFP]

Indonesia’s environment minister has dismissed as “inappropriate and unfair” a global plan to end deforestation by 2030, days after her country, home to a third of the world’s rainforests, joined 127 other nations in making the deforestation pledge.

“Forcing Indonesia to [reach] zero deforestation in 2030 is clearly inappropriate and unfair,” she said on Twitter on Wednesday.

The agreement late on Monday at the COP26 climate crisis summit was at odds with Indonesia’s development plans and the global goals should be fine-tuned, said Siti Nurbaya Bakar, who attended the summit in Glasgow.

“The massive development of President Jokowi’s era must not stop in the name of carbon emissions or in the name of deforestation,” she said, referring to Indonesian leader, Joko Widodo by his nickname.

Her comments so soon after the pledge underlines the challenges ahead for global deforestation goals, with just three countries – Indonesia, Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo – collectively accounting for 85 percent of the world’s forests.

Adding to the confusion about Indonesia’s position, the country’s vice foreign minister, Mahendra Siregar, on Thursday denied that zero deforestation by 2030 was even part of the COP26 pledge.

“The declaration issued does not refer at all to the ‘end deforestation by 2030’,” he said in a statement. “It is important to move beyond mere narrative, rhetoric, arbitrary targets and sound bites,” he added.

He further explained that the pledge did not mean to halt deforestation completely but to ensure there was no net loss of forested land.

Mahendra later told the news agency Reuters that Indonesia interprets “halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030”, as stated in the pledge, as “sustainable forest management … not end deforestation by 2030”.

Environment Minister Siti said definitions of deforestation differed widely, so imposing European standards on Indonesia was unfair.

Instead, she highlighted Indonesia’s own, less absolute goals, in which the forestry sector would absorb more greenhouse gases than it releases by 2030 by minimising deforestation and rehabilitating forests.

But the almost immediate about-face by a country central to saving the world’s tropical rainforests triggered outrage on social media in Indonesia and among environmental activists.

“The statement is profoundly disappointing,” said Kiki Taufik, head of Greenpeace’s Indonesian forests campaign, calling it “completely at odds with the declaration”.

“Friends to the environment or money? Ma’am,” Instagram user Bayu Satrio Nugroho remarked under Siti’s post.

Quizzed by reporters, Boris Johnson’s spokesman said he did not see a contradiction in Indonesia’s statements.

“My understanding of what the Indonesian government has said is that they need to be able to continue legal logging and agriculture to support their economic development,” the spokesman said.

“It would be consistent with the pledge – what countries have committed to is to end net deforestation, ensuring that any forest lost is replaced sustainably.”

Indonesia is the world’s biggest exporter of palm oil, and in 2019 alone, an area of forest and other land half the size of Belgium was burned for plantations.

Authorities have, however, since 2018 suspended the issue of permits for new plantations and cut deforestation by 75 percent last year.

Indonesia is also seeking to expand its nickel and electric vehicle industries, requiring more land.

According to Global Forest Watch, Indonesia in 2001 had 93.8 million hectares (230 million acres) of primary forest – ancient forests which have largely not been disturbed by human activity – an area about the size of Egypt.

By 2020, that area had decreased by about 10 percent.

Source: News Agencies