By Fitrian Ardiansyah, published in Coal Asia, November 23 – December 15, 2013, page 142-143
for the pdf version, please see Opinion Fitrian Ardiansyah_CoalAsia_NovDec2013
With the alarming global challenges in the forms of climate change, natural resources depletion, environmental degradation, financial crisis, extreme poverty and social inequality, it is more than relevant now for countries and institutions around the world to find new and innovative solutions.
Some scholars have calculated that if human and industrial activities are set to continue with their current trend, the associated impacts resulting from respected activities may push our planet close to its ‘tipping point’, and if particular key environmental factors are measured, the impacts can move the present situation beyond the globally known ‘planetary boundaries’.
The planetary boundaries, as defined by reputable scientists like Professors Dave Griggs and Will Steffen, are a safe operating space for humanity, which are identified and quantified so that human activities can move forward without causing unacceptable environmental changes.
These boundaries include biodiversity loss, atmospheric aerosol loading, chemical pollution, climate change, ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, nitrogen and phosphorous cycles, global freshwater use and change in land use.
Since most changes in ecosystems are asymmetrical in nature, as defined in these planetary boundaries, once the impacts push our planet to reach its ‘tipping point’, it may be too late for humanity to formulate and implement actions to address these challenges.
One clear example is the anthropogenic climate change that has affected and will continue to affect the global world. A recent report by the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that small-island and archipelagic nations, including countries in Southeast Asia, and their communities and ecosystems are among the most vulnerable.
Some scholars argue that we have witnessed the early signs of this change including a significant increase in climate related disasters such as extreme weather events, flooding, land sliding, drought, and fires and haze.
Such disasters will put further pressures to our already degraded environment due to decades of natural resources overexploitation and environmental degradation, among others, as a result of destructive and illegal logging, expansion of infrastructure and agriculture, and mining extraction activities.
Therefore, to find new and innovative solutions may require us to substantially reform our current development paths, for instance, by rethinking the overall economic growth, advancing social equity and ensuring environmental protection at all levels.
It is clear that to undertake such reforms, both industrial and developing countries need to come up with additional and adequate financial and technological resources. A country or an institution cannot do these reforms individually. Existing partnerships have to be strengthened and new and creative platforms of partnerships need to be explored and promoted.
With the current global economic and financial situation, no individual countries have sufficient financial muscles to address the global environmental challenges, without other countries to complement their actions.
In fact, hundreds of multinational corporations may have financial capitals which are more than the gross domestic products of most nations in the world.
This means that when it comes to addressing environmental issues and promoting sustainable management of our remaining natural resources, global partnerships need to be forged not only between the developed and developing nations, among developing countries, but also between state and non-state actors, more particularly with the private sector and key communities.
Such partnerships, if based on common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, can open doors of new opportunities which are crucial to address global environmental challenges and eventually achieve the goals of green economy and sustainable development.
From the region of Southeast Asia, the Heart of Borneo (HoB) initiative can be considered as one of the platforms which can be a good test for the countries who support it – i.e. Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei – to show that conserving and sustainably managing 22 million hectares of important forest and terrestrial ecosystems are not only possible but also economically and socially beneficial.
The three countries in this region which share the same island of Borneo and its remaining valuable terrestrial resources agree that no single country can deal with difficult environmental problems, such as large scale and widespread deforestation and forest degradation, and bring about sustainable solution in this island.
As a result, pledges and commitments have been announced by these countries and stipulated in key documents including the HoB Strategic Plan of Action.
Civil society groups have also taken part in this initiative by supporting some programs and efforts such as through on the ground conservation actions and community empowerment.
Although driven by the three governments and assisted by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), it appears that the HoB initiative can only work properly and achieve its goal if the private sector takes a major part in this initiative.
With mining exploitation and exploration, logging concessions and plantation development as key sectors influencing the development of the island, the involvement of actors from this sector as deemed crucial.
A recent initiative taken by the Government of Sabah State in Malaysia in launching its Forever Sabah initiative to support the HoB can be seen as an effort to promote a wide-range of partnership among key stakeholders influential in land use management in the HoB’s part of that state.
This effort, for instance, has brought together an energy company, that has a plan to increase renewable energy intake which could lead to further protection of forests, along with an award winning community based eco-tourism cooperative that will benefit from further conservation of fragile ecosystems, and plantation companies that try to restore forest important for wildlife corridors as an encouraged under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.
An NGO focusing on empowering indigenous and local communities through a model of kampong universities that provides useful knowledge and skills for natural resource management, and other key stakeholders, also have made strategic contributions to this initiative.
Similar efforts have taken place in the Indonesian part of the HoB, including in West Kalimantan province, particularly in Kapuas Hulu district, and in East Kalimantan province (Kutai Barat district). Both areas are striving to achieve an ideal goal of green economic development at local level by promoting a platform of collaborative actions among different stakeholders.
In another part of the world, such as the Amazon region, a multi-partners work that launched a 10-year initiative to preserve 12 percent, or 60 million hectares, of the Brazilian Amazon under the Amazon Region Protected Area can be used as a showcase. Other similar efforts in the Amazon have now ensured further protection and improved management of 80 percent of the Amazon’s original forest and establishing hundreds of millions of conservation fund.
Promoting such partnership at that large-scale requires not only political willingness but also concrete incentives and practical solutions on the ground. Otherwise, key actors and stakeholders may not necessarily have the ownership and be willing to support the agenda coming from the partnership.
It is of course still a long way to go for these partnership models to shine.
The involvement of non-state actors, in the government led initiative, however, displays that different actors’ efforts can complement each other.
The private sector and civil society, for example, can be actively involved in addressing the challenge in changing the unsustainable production and consumption patterns, while the governments can provide and improve enabling conditions, namely good economic policies and governance.
If such partnerships can be maintained, enhanced and magnified, one can dream and hope about the bright future of our human civilization.
The author is climate and sustainability specialist, a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University, and the recipient of Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award.