Clearing up the region’s hazy future

Fitrian Ardiansyah, Climate Solutions Column, The Jakarta Post | Tue, 10/26/2010 10:58 AM | Environment

Forest and land fires break out again. Last week, Singaporean and Malaysian governments contacted the Indonesian government to “register their concerns” over the recurring haze problem.

According to news in the region, a number of schools in Malaysia were advised to temporarily close because the haze reached a “hazardous” level and the air pollution index in Singapore also reached unhealthy levels with cases of respiratory problems including asthma increasing significantly.

Fires and the associated haze have not only affected Singapore and Malaysia. Dumai airport in Riau province, in the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, was closed last Wednesday due to limited visibility.

The residents of Pekanbaru, the capital city of Riau, as reported by this paper, have complained about a thick haze blanketing the city as it has caused a number of health problems, ranging from eye irritations to respiratory infections.

Some Indonesian officials suggested traditional farmers practicing slash-and-burn agriculture were the major culprits of this year’s forest and land fires.

However, as detected by the Modis Terra Aqua satellite, 172 hotspots which were found in Riau during the period between Oct. 18-21 occurred mainly on pulpwood concessions and oil palm oil plantations. Only a small number of hotspots were found in forest and other land.

Forest and land fires occur in many countries around the world such as in the US (in California), Australia, Turkey, Spain, Russia, Greece and countries in Southeast Asia.

When discussing Southeast Asian fires, especially in Sumatra and Borneo, nevertheless, most studies and peer-reviewed journal articles agree that these fires were human induced.

These studies conclude that a combination of plantation and timber companies, unresolved land tenure disputes as well as land clearing by a massive number of individuals are believed to be the main causes of the fires.

Fires and the associated smog are not a new issue in Southeast Asia. Serious fires and haze seasons have recurred, mainly on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, in 1982-1983, 1987, 1991, 1994, 1997-1998, 2005 and 2006-2007.

At the peak of massive forest and land fires, the amount of hotspots could reach 25,000 to 35,000 in a month. The highest occurred in August 1997 when 37,938 were counted.

This year’s hotspots may be nowhere near the amount of those in 1997-1998, 2005 or 2006-2007, but the manner in which the Indonesian government tackles this problem would indicate its willingness, power, assertiveness and capacity in dealing with bigger challenges of deforestation and peat land conversion.

“Extinguishing” fires in Indonesia is not a simple matter. Conventional suppression approaches — extinguishing fires after they occur — have been proven inadequate.

There is a pressing need for more comprehensive solutions and to address a wider range of concerns that cut to the heart of political-economy and administrative reforms in the country.

The first critical approach is prevention measures that can minimize the risks of destructive fires, which include a moratorium — i.e. the government stops granting licenses for land clearing on forest and peat lands — and a zero burning policy.

Since deforestation and peat lands clearing and drainage — for logging or to establish plantations and other land uses — very often give way to fires during the dry months, the moratorium is perceived to be an urgent solution to tackle deforestation and fires.

Following the agreement between Norway and Indonesia on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus (REDD+), the Indonesian government appears to be seriously preparing a moratorium on clearing forest and peat lands for two years starting next January.

However, with this year’s fires, the government is required to speed up this process so that the country can have clear regulations, an incentives mechanism, operational guidelines and technical guidance to implement, monitor and enforce the moratorium.

This clarity is needed because policy on a moratorium ought to be translated by different ministries — especially those influential in land use — at the national level and different layers of governments at the provincial or district level.

Some people may take advantage of unclear translation of policies and division of authorities on a moratorium among ministries and different layers of governments. If this is the case, deforestation, peat lands conversion and drainage, and forest and land fires are likely to continue to occur.

This pressure would be alleviated if investors and the private sector could work with the Indonesian authorities and other stakeholders to ensure sustainable practices such as by increasing productivity on existing plantations and developing non-forested land and non-peat land for timber and oil palm plantation expansion.

Timber concessions and oil palm plantations (owned not only by Indonesians but also Malaysians and Singaporeans) can further promote, adopt and implement zero-burning practices and help smallholders to follow suit.

Financial institutions, for instance, could develop robust investment screening policies to discourage high-risk investment patterns leading to deforestation or forest and land fires.

The consumer market can also help by favoring goods which are produced through guaranteed sustainable operations.

Jakarta will host the eighth Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) next month. The RSPO has incorporated the above important interventions in its principles and criteria (P&C) on sustainable palm oil.

RSPO and its members have, therefore, a momentous opportunity to demonstrate: that their P&C, when effectively implemented, can indeed help alleviate the problems of deforestation and fires on the ground.

Finally, the Indonesian government needs to lead swift actions on forest and land fires. However, Indonesia cannot and should not be expected to solve this problem alone.

Collaborative efforts between key countries, partners and players is the key to putting an end to the region’s widespread and recurring haze problems, and keeping its sky clear in the future.

The writer is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University, recipient of the Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award and advisor to WWF-Indonesia on climate and energy. He can be reached at

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How do we make sure our cities stay liveable?

Fitrian Ardiansyah, The Jakarta Post, Climate Solutions Column | Tue, 09/28/2010 11:27 AM | Environment

Recently, the Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) predicted that heavy rains would hit Jakarta at the end of this year and would be likely to cause major flooding.

Flooding is not a new issue and Jakarta, as many other big cities in Indonesia including Bandung, Semarang and Surabaya, have unfortunately grown accustomed to it.

In 2007, flooding in Jakarta affected 80 subdistricts, causing traffic chaos and paralyzing the city.

More than 70,000 houses were inundated, with water levels ranging from 10 centimeters to 5 meters, 69 people were killed and an estimated 420,440 people were displaced. The Indonesian government estimated that losses amounted to Rp 4.1 trillion (US$450 million).

Last week, torrential rain in many areas of Jakarta flooded several underpasses in the eastern and southern parts of the city and was reported to have killed one man and inundated 12 subdistricts.

Rain — heavy or not — often leads to heavy traffic congestion during the rush hour in Jakarta and other cities. One study estimates that traffic jams cost Jakarta at least $1.4 billion a year in lost productivity.

In one of its reports, the BMKG projects there is an increasingly high risk and frequency of flooding and storm surge across Indonesia, as the global temperature increases.

Even though the flooding may not be as bad as that of 2007, the BMKG predicts that this rain, probably combined with a higher level of seawater, could still cause Jakarta to be submerged.

With an increase in the frequency of extreme weather and other climate-hydrological risks, the capacity of the capital city and other cities in Indonesia in dealing with this issue remains in question.

Climate change itself will merely intensify the pressure on these cities that have already been experiencing environmental degradation for decades.

Cities now cover less than 1 percent of the planet’s surface, but they are home to around 50 percent of the world’s population and growing rapidly. In Indonesia, according to the 2009 World Population Data Sheet, 40 to 50 percent of the country’s total population lives in urban areas.

The growth of cities and urban areas usually coincides with a rapid increase in a demand for land, energy, water and other natural resources, triggered by industrial activity, transportation infrastructure, office operations and housing for the new urban dwellers.

Particularly in developing countries, this growth translates into environmental challenges including lack of access to clean drinking water, urban water and air pollution, waste management, flooding and lack of green areas or open spaces.

This growth also contributes to the current global greenhouse gas emissions.

Policies, programs and actions need to be formulated now and implemented immediately to deal with the ongoing environmental challenges and adapt to future climate impacts.

In response to the challenge of flooding, last Friday, for instance, Jakarta’s governor promised that various efforts would be made to prevent any major flooding from inundating the capital city of Jakarta. This was the latest in a string of promises he has already made and the people of Jakarta have waited long enough to see if this is actually going to be implemented.

With the current land-use management, Jakarta and other cities have little capacity to absorb a high level of rainfall, while nearby rivers cannot discharge water into the sea since they are clogged with waste and because the sea may already be experiencing a higher volume of water.

Experts have previously pushed for a variety of solutions, including improved urban planning and infrastructure, such as improving water, wastewater and sewerage systems and services, maintaining the rest and creating new green open spaces, improving waste management and improving public transportation.

These solutions, if developed and implemented appropriately, not only can minimize the impact of environmental problems and climate change but are also an opportunity as a basis for achieving sustainable development.

City governments and the private sector firms that have influenced the cities’ economic growth, however, are not the only actors to be considered.

Another key factor when dealing with these environmental and climate challenges is involving the citizens of Jakarta, particularly to change their behavior in consuming energy and other products and managing their waste.

As reported in many studies and the media, the emerging middle classes in Indonesia’s large cities, especially in Jakarta, have altered consumption patterns and subsequently put additional pressure on natural resources, contributing to local water and air pollution and waste.

For example, a dramatic increase in the number of vehicles in Jakarta, often characterized by the ownership of multiple cars per family, has led to an increase in air pollution, associated with high levels of respiratory disease and other serious diseases.

The high level of consumption has generated a high level of waste, or around 6,500 tons per day for Jakarta. Experts calculate that about 20 percent of Jakarta’s daily solid waste ends up in the city’s rivers and canals, blocking their flow and reducing their ability to deal with floodwater by up to 50 percent.

There are organizations, nevertheless, currently working with students and showing the link between littering and natural disasters, that teaches them how to recycle waste materials and what to do in the event of a major flood.

This effort is laudable but needs to be supported further and scaled up.

Cities have always been a hot spot of innovation and technology and have, therefore, traditionally been the places where many of the solutions to the world’s problems are reached.

There are always choices — to have a liveable city or a doomed one — and now is the right time to make that choice.

The writer is a Ph.D. candidate at the Australian National University, the recipient of an Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award and adviser to WWF-Indonesia on climate and energy. He can be reached at

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Local nuance at the heart of climate policies

Fitrian Ardiansyah, The Jakarta Post, Climate Solutions Column | Tue, 08/31/2010 10:00 AM | Environment

In his Independence Day speech, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced the results of the latest population census, sparking concern as to how the country was handling the looming challenge of a population boom.

According to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), Indonesia is now home to 237.6 million people, an increase of about 32.5 million since 2000. Within the next five years, Indonesia’s population will grow to 250 million, according to estimates.

In the context of climate change, this may well lead to a dramatic growth in consumption and other human-induced activities, which could significantly increase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as by-products of economic growth.

As we may learn, an increase in GHG emissions correlates with an increase in the concentration of GHG in the atmosphere, resulting in climate change and its associated impacts — which will eventually affect Indonesians.

Even without climate change, the exponential growth rate of the country’s population has contributed to continuous pressures on remaining natural resources and ecosystems.

Climate change may worsen existing environmental degradation resulting from illegal and destructive logging, forest conversion, overfishing and overexploitation of natural resources.

Because this massive archipelagic nation has adopted a decentralized system, local governments and people must shoulder the burden of this issue.

One of the country’s biggest challenges right now is to formulate climate policies and initiate programs that seriously reflect local aspirations and incorporate ongoing efforts at the local level.

A number of climate policies developed since 2007 mostly focus on strategic intervention to reduce GHG emissions by 26 percent by 2020 at the national level, or prioritize action in key development sectors.

This approach, however, leaves a substantial gap when it comes to action on the ground. Comparing polices at the national level, or in key development sectors, with intervention at a local level, has never been easy. Decentralization in Indonesia is a highly complex subject.

Many experts have praised Indonesia’s decentralization and transformation but concerns over the division of authorities and fiscal distribution remain.

For instance, policies formulated and actions taken by national government (in all sectors) often differ or clash with those taken at the provincial or district level.

This is also true in the case of climate change.

According to Dr. Meine van Noordwijk of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), how reductions of GHG emissions are likely to be allocated over sectors and, more importantly, over parts of the country, has not been decided yet.

Provinces and districts in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua, for instance, are still drafting their low-carbon development plans.

In these drafts, provinces and districts have voiced their aspirations to address climate change and sustainability.

In a decentralized model, it is crucial that the already developed and currently formulated national and sectoral climate change policies take into account these sub-national or local policy aspirations.

If the figures from different layers of the government do not match, it will be a Herculean task for the country to commit to pledge to reduce GHG emissions.

Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, head of the Indonesian team negotiating the bilateral agreement with Norway to reduce carbon emissions, recently said the Indonesian government had acknowledged the need for a system with high integrity, which left no room for leakages, to implement REDD+ successfully.

He explained a high degree of integrity was fundamental since compensation for REDD+ implementation would depend on the credibility of this system.

Setting up positive incentives, including financial ones, is another way to encourage local governments and actors to be more involved in climate change mitigation.

This is important since benefits resulting from any climate change policies need to be felt and distributed in an equitable manner.

Moreover, these incentives need to be framed by rules that ensure benefits created flow to, and are retained by, local and indigenous people — as well as poor communities — who are among the most resource-dependent people and providers of important environmental services.

In the past, the position, rights and interests of local and indigenous people were often overlooked or marginalized when the government formulated environmental policies.

As a result, poverty and environmental degradation are still prevalent.

Including local and indigenous people is therefore key to instituting better climate governance.

The recipient of the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, Elinor Ostrom, said social arrangements were crucial in determining the outcomes of policies, particularly when these were aimed at influencing human behavior interconnecting with economic matters.

In the Indonesian context, understanding the complexity of decentralization, taking into account aspirations of local governments and people, can be viewed as appropriate social arrangements.

This is not only likely to ensure successful outcomes from climate policies, but could also help minimize the cost of implementation of these policies, reduce social conflicts and provide social insurance in case of hazards.

Most importantly, this would strengthen the confidence and trust among all stakeholders and right holders — which is crucial for the nation itself.

The writer is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University, a recipient of the Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award, as well as an advisor to WWF-Indonesia on climate and energy. He can be reached at

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Untangling the web of REDD governance

Fitrian Ardiansyah, Climate Solutions Column, The Jakarta Post | Tue, 08/03/2010 8:08 AM | Environment

Following the signing of an agreement between Norway and Indonesia implementing the UN’s reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus (REDD+) program, the Indonesian government is seriously considering an idea to establish a REDD council.

This council is expected to report directly to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to coordinate REDD+ implementation efforts in the country.

In addition, the council would regulate REDD+ projects and decide which projects would be endorsed prior to registration at the United Nations (UN).

The government thinks that unapproved REDD projects would be prevented by the creation of
this council.

Unsurprisingly, the idea to establish a REDD council has sparked different responses. Some have supported it and others have responded skeptically.

Those supporting the idea state that the council is crucial for the country to reduce emissions from deforestation comprehensively — across sectors — and lift the burden of this gigantic task from the Forestry Ministry.

According to Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan, the REDD council may reduce his ministry’s authority on forests, but could also help the ministry focus on its main (and huge) task of managing Indonesia’s dwindling forests.

Proponents of a REDD council believe it would smooth the process of developing policies, institutions and a legal framework for the implementation of REDD+.

On the other hand, others argue that REDD council may not be the appropriate institution to ensure coordination across sectors and among different layers of governments and actors when it comes to dealing with deforestation and land use changes.

Deforestation and the destruction of terrestrial ecosystems are often associated with the development of major sectors such as forestry, agriculture, mining and infrastructure.

These sectors are regulated under different ministries (i.e., forestry, agriculture, energy and mineral resources and public works). These ministries are known to have often overlapping policies on land use and land use changes.

It is therefore essential that any institution developed to oversee the formulation and implementation
of REDD+ has to actively and directly involve and coordinate these sectors and the ministries overseeing the sectors.

A REDD council needs to get these sectors involved and to gain support when it comes to issuing and implementing policies on REDD+.

Good policies on REDD+ are required to cover and clarify forest tenure and management, overlapping land use and agricultural policies and coordination of district, provincial and national level agencies and actors.

Some experts suggest that the country needs to learn a lesson from the current National Council on Climate Change (DNPI) as well as other relevant institutions and policies created by the President and his ministries.

The creation of DNPI in 2008 by Yudhoyono is an attempt to guide Indonesia’s efforts in integrating climate change into its development agenda.

To be able to do this, support from different sectors, governments and actors at national, provincial and district levels is crucial. However, securing this support remains a continuous challenge for DNPI.

DNPI itself has a working group on forestry issues that has been dealing with REDD Plus. It is yet to be seen as to how this unit will be positioned vis-a-vis a new REDD council.

The country also has the Coordinating Board of Spatial Planning (BKPRN) — led by the Coordinating Economic Ministry and supported by at least 13 ministries and agencies — that has the task to prepare, coordinate and monitor national spatial and land use planning.

In the context of these policies, the government has released a number of official documents that  emphasize the challenges of key climate change actions in sectors such as forestry, land use and agriculture.

These include the Finance Ministry’s Green Paper, the Environment Ministry’s Indonesia Second National Communication and the National Development Planning Ministry’s Indonesia Climate Change Sectoral Roadmap.

Without careful and thorough assessment, the establishment of a REDD council and its future policies would further tangle already a complicated web of forest and land use management.

Studies show that decentralization in this country, particularly in the forestry and land use sectors, has been incredibly rapid, with decentralization occurring effectively more quickly than legally.

Local governments, groups and individuals appear to have more power and authority. This has contributed to the gradual decline of the central government’s ability to both manage and protect forest and land use resources.

Having learnt from this and to demonstrate a good process in integrating sub-national and national levels of effective land use policies, recent initiatives to promote sustainable development have been

These include “The Road Map for Saving Sumatra Island and Ecosystem”, “the Heart of Borneo” and “Papua Government Initiative”.

If formally established, it is important for REDD council to accommodate local voices and concerns and adjust its system to ensure effective implementation of REDD+.

The proposed REDD council is perceived as the litmus test to Indonesia’s ability to curb deforestation.

All will only end well if the government can come up with a design that can overcome the challenges mentioned above.

The writer is a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University, recipient of Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award and advisor to the World Wildlife Fund Indonesia on climate and energy issues. He can be reached at

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Indonesia’s energy dilemma

Fitrian Ardiansyah, Climate Solutions Column, The Jakarta Post | Tue, 07/06/2010 9:28 AM | Environment

The increase in the base price of electricity (TDL) that starts this month reminds us yet again of the big challenges Indonesia faces when it comes to meeting the country’s rising energy demands.

Energy demand will increase in line with economic development and population growth.

Among G20 nations, Indonesia lags only behind China and India as the world’s fastest-growing economy and has a 6 percent GDP growth rate. This has led to a dramatic increase in energy consumption.

According to the Green Policy Paper released by the Finance Ministry, total energy demand is growing by around 7 percent per year, as the transport and industrial sectors grow, and as households become more affluent.

In the power sector, some analysts suggest that electricity demand grows by an average of 9 percent
per year.

In 2004, Indonesia had 25 gigawatts (GW) of installed electricity generating capacity. The current total capacity is 30.9 GW, two-thirds of which is concentrated in Java, Madura and Bali.

To meet demand, it is predicted that capacity will need to reach 100 GW by 2030.

In the transportation sector, the Transportation Ministry recorded a dramatic increase in motor vehicles.

In 2002 there were only 17 million motorcycles. In mid-2008, there were more than 40 million motorcycles, or 75 percent of all motor vehicles, according to the Road and Traffic Police.

In 2007, land transport — predominantly motor vehicles — was 47.5 percent of national fuel consumption.

The overall growing demand for energy is not balanced by growth in energy supplies and this has caused a crisis in some areas.

The Institute of Essential Services (IESR) argues that the energy situation has worsened since the 1997 economic crisis. This has been evident by more frequent fuel and electricity shortages since 2000 throughout the country.

Although still considered the largest energy producer in ASEAN, the country is struggling to keep up with its energy demand.

From the supply side, the country is the world’s leading thermal coal exporter, a substantial liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter and was, until 2004, a net oil exporter.

By 2030, Indonesia is expected to remain an exporter of natural gas and coal, but is projected to import 1.3 million barrels per day of oil.

The majority of energy sources for power generation come from conventional thermal sources — fossil fuels, such as oil, natural gas, and coal — and less than 20 percent from hydroelectric sources, and geothermal and other renewable sources.

For the transportation sector, oil still dominates.

The high price of oil on the global market has led to increasing electricity-generation upstream costs and made it more expensive to produce and import gasoline.

In the case of power generation, the cost of electricity production, which is currently around 11 US cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), cannot be covered by a sales price of 6.5 cents per kWh.

Unsubsidized gasoline is sold between 74 cents and 80 cents per liter whereas the subsidized price is 49 cents.

This subsidy and incorrect price have created a burden for the state budget and contributes to wasteful patterns of energy consumption.

Former finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati stated that spending on subsidized electricity and fuel would increase to $15.77 billion in 2010, up from an earlier budget target of $11.6 billion.

Since fossil fuels are a main energy source, a dramatic increase in energy consumption has had significant environmental consequences, such as smog, acid rain and significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Although politically challenging, it is understandable that the government wants to increase the price of TDL and to gradually remove energy subsidies.

Nevertheless, the increase in price and the removal of subsidies should be carried out in a just and fair way.

The government needs to protect the poor and provide a scheme for families that still require assistance.

The exclusion of 450 VA customers (a significant number of total electricity consumers and mostly households) appears to be a good decision.

In addition, the adjustment of the price could strengthen on-going actions to conduct energy efficiency and conservation.

Some studies show that Indonesia has the chance to achieve energy efficiency, such as a 10-30 percent efficiency increase from households, 10-23 percent from commercial sectors and 7-21 percent from industry.

This may be a good time for the government to think about the provision of incentives for people or institutions that are embracing energy efficiency and conservation.

The reduction of energy consumption will help the economy and contribute towards mitigating climate change in the long term.

This policy on the demand side should also be strengthened with the government’s increase of support for the development of renewable energy.

Indonesia possesses a variety of renewable energy resources, including geothermal, solar, micro-hydro, wind and bio-energy.

Addressing the decline in conventional energy resources and the escalating concern over environmental issues will not be achieved if there is no serious support and investment in renewable energy.

This comprehensive set of different policy options that touches energy pricing, investment and social equity, if developed and implemented properly, will hopefully help Indonesia to secure its energy and ensure it is clean, renewable and sustainable.

The writer is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University, recipient of Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award and former program director of climate & energy at WWF-Indonesia. He can be reached at

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