Climate change and Indonesia’s key resources

By Fitrian Ardiansyah, published in Coal Asia, February 22 – March 22, 2014, page 150-151

for the pdf version, please see Opinion Fitrian Ardiansyah_CoalAsia_FebMar2014

Climate change and Indonesia ke resources

In his speech on a recent visit to Jakarta, the US Secretary of State John Kerry calls the world to pursue actions on climate change. This has propelled climate change back on the global news headlines.

With the current negotiation on climate change at the UN level converging toward Paris in 2015, expectedly resulting in a global climate change treaty agreed by all nations, the statement made by John Kerry is like a breath of fresh air since many countries have been waiting for the US examples and leadership in this issue.

A bilateral agreement between China and the US – reached a day before his visit to Indonesia – to cooperate more closely on combating climate change may potentially lead to wider and stronger commitments to curb greenhouse gases (GHG) by both and other big countries.

Any positive movement and actions coming out from the two superpowers are significant steps toward reaching a global commitment.

For Indonesia, actions from the two superpowers and wider global actions, including an agreed treaty, will definitely help and strengthen the country’s existing policies and programs on climate change.

As an archipelagic nation, Indonesia has started to experience climate change impacts, and if not seriously dealt with, these could further put pressure on the country’s economy, society and natural environment, which include extreme and unseasonal weather, droughts, flooding and trans-boundary haze.

At the same time, stronger actions on climate change at the global level are likely to provide a platform for Indonesia to decouple its economy from GHG emissions. Global agreed actions, particularly that include stronger commitments in terms of GHG emissions reduction, can in turn provide economic incentives for both state and corporate actors to reduce their emissions.

Without such incentives, it will be challenging for an emerging economy like Indonesia that has a high and relatively steady economic growth, a huge natural resources base and projected population expansion, to reduce the growth of its GHG emissions.

Sufficient economic incentives added with appropriate policies and programs can assist Indonesia to achieve balanced development – development that ensures economic growth and climate change mitigation.

To be able to attain this, however, the government of Indonesia may require specific interventions at the national and sub-national levels in key sectors such as energy (with key commodities including coal, gas and renewables) and agriculture (with key commodities including palm oil).

In the energy sector, Indonesia has significant resources and reserves of coal and gas, producing more this type of energy sources, not only for domestic consumption but also for meeting theexport demand. The 2012 data of the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry indicate a persistent growth of production of coal, with the proportion of export reaching above 90 percent in the period of 2007-2009.

The increased domestic use of coal means that emissions from coal, which was minor contribution in 1980s and remained below 10 percent until late 1990s, have spiked in the last ten years. In 2009, according to the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry, the contribution of emissions from coal was almost 40 percent.

The use of fossil fuels – i.e. coal, gas and oil – appears to continue playing an important role in the country’s energy mix in the future. Yet, to achieve a strong economic growth while ensuring the reduction of GHG emissions, Indonesia needs to dramatically boost investment in renewable energy and energy conservation (e.g. clean technology, eco-efficiency, eco-designs, etc.).

Boosting and attracting investments require policy reforms, especially which relate to energy subsidies and fundamental institutional changes. Many economists believe that huge energy subsidies have hindered the development of Indonesia’s renewable energy and can lead to energy security issues in the future.

In the agriculture sector, Indonesia has a challenging future in terms of providing food for its population. Several projections, for example, reveal that Indonesia’s rice consumption would exceed its production in 2020 and beyond. One of the possible factors causing this is likely to be the issue of land availability.

If climate change impacts are taken into consideration, the agricultural production may fall below these current projected figures. Climate change not only could lead to the reduction of the volume of agriculture commodities produced but may also result in other related damages and costs.

It is crucial, therefore, for the government to formulate policies and programs which ensure that the agriculture sector can cope with climate change challenges.

The current programs initiated by the Agriculture Ministry including by developing crop varieties which can cope with climate challenges (i.e. resilience to drought, flooding and diseases) and improving farmers field education on climate change and
variability, need to be further supported, especially at local level (i.e. ensuring farmers to have support so that they can increase their adaptive capacity).

Such programs and the lessons-learnt resulting from these not only can help Indonesia to develop climate change adaptation in the agriculture sector but also contribute to the negotiation of global adaptation programs and funds.

When it comes to discussing the agriculture sector, palm oil is undeniably one of the most important commodities for Indonesia.

With the skyrocketing demand for palm oil over the past 25 years, the challenge of climate change (both in terms of the future demand for biofuel and issues associated with deforestation) and the increase in capability to produce more, world production of palm oil, including in Indonesia, is expected to nearly double by 2020.

The amount of land given over to oil palms that has multiplied since the mid-1970s would even dramatically increase in the future.

Such increase in palm oil production leads to challenges and opportunities for Indonesia. Immediate and future opportunities for Indonesia, among others, are to show good cases that the country can meet the domestic and global demand by promoting sustainable palm oil production.

Key challenges include applying better land management, including no conversion forest and peat lands as well as the implementation of zero burning activities, and other GHG saving activities, including the use of POME (palm oil mill effluent) for energy and other uses.

The speech made by the US Secretary of State serves as a good reminder for the US itself, China and other big countries, including Indonesia, that all nations have responsibilities toward addressing climate change albeit with different capabilities.

When it comes to Indonesia’s domestic capability, the country needs to focus on its key sectors, resources and commodities. These sectors are both contributors to GHG missions and potentially affected by climate change impacts.

Strategically focusing on these sectors and resources means a further burden for a developing country like Indonesia because it requires huge financial, institutional and social investments.

It, nevertheless, also presents a good opportunity for the country not only to safeguard it against the threat climate change poses to development but also seize the economic opportunity that climate change presents.

Let us hope the current and future governments choose their options wisely.

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The author is climate and sustainability specialist, a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University, the recipient of Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award, and Program Development Director of Pelangi Indonesia.

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