Meaningful partnerships to manage our resources wisely

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

CoalAsia_NovDec2013_Meaningful partnership

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.

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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.

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The private sector and ‘green’ transformation

By Fitrian Ardiansyah, published in Coal Asia, July 19 – August 17, 2013, page 82-83

for the pdf version, please see Opinion Fitrian Ardiansyah_CoalAsia_JulyAugust2013

CoalAsia_JulyAugust2013_privatesector

With growing environmental and social problems faced by the society resulting from economic activities, there is a clear need for substantive solutions that cut to the heart of the economy at different levels. The private sector, as a key actor involved in economic activities, hence has a significant role to push for the transformation of the economy into greener and sustainable.

Indonesia is currently at the forefront of many sustainability issues. Deforestation, depletion of natural resources, water and air pollution, flooding and drought, are among huge challenges that the country has to deal with.

The private sector, including investors and corporates, has often been perceived as one of the main culprits causing environmental problems. In the recent event of forest and land fires in Sumatra, an analysis by World Resources Institute indicated the occurrence of fires in lands belong to a number of plantation and forestry companies. The mud flow in East Java is also an example in which the public view that a particular corporation is the sole cause of the disaster.

The private sector, nevertheless, has also been commencing initiatives with other stakeholders, including the government and civil society groups, to address environmental issues and provide immediate and long-term solutions.

At the global level, platforms such as the Forest Stewardship Council that promotes certification for sustainable forest management and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil that promotes the production and use of certified sustainable palm oil have emerged.

According to the 2012 Association of Chartered Certified Accountants report, there has been a significant increase in the application of socially responsible investment by institutional investors around the world and over 1,000 investors representing US$32 trillion has signed up to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment.

In Indonesia, although there is yet to be a comprehensive assessment on the private sector’s sustainable activities, it appears there are sections of the sector which have seen sustainability as business opportunity.

Indonesian corporations linked with foreign investors or markets which have stricter environmental regulations or requirements, for instance, may likely to promote and adopt sustainability standards for their operations or could face further pressures and negative consequences.

Pressures and demands from the Indonesian government and its society for greener economy and development have also sent signals to the private sector that destructive operations which result in negative environmental impacts need to be mitigated or stopped.

Local social conflicts could rise due to the perceived negative risks and unwanted impacts resulting from particular business activities, such as from mining, oil and gas extraction, infrastructure development, plantation establishment, logging operations, buildings and settlements.

Avoiding the halt of particular business activities resulting from tensions and conflicts could mean helping investors and corporates to save unwanted costs which could reach millions of dollars.

Creating incentives and rewards can also trigger more active involvement of the private sector to promote, develop and implement sustainable practices.

The latest increase in the tariff for renewable energy in Indonesia (i.e. geothermal, biomass, solar), for example, has created a better level of playing fields for renewable energy investors and corporates. This is expected to further attract larger investments from the private sector which eventually help reducing the country’s dependency on fossil fuels, providing wider and accessible energy for its citizens, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Incentives created for reducing emissions from deforestation have also begun to attract investors and corporates to be pioneers in forest and peat land conservation and restoration. If conducted responsibly, taking into account the needs and rights of local and indigenous peoples, the private sector can demonstrate that this type of actions can produce benefits for the economy, environment and communities.

Such responsible approach is not an easy task to do. The private sector may need help from a variety of groups, including the government and civil society, to understand the complexity of the issues, calculate the costs and initial investment associated with the approach, and be patient but persistent in undertaking the journey towards sustainability.

Multi-stakeholders platforms built collaboratively by the private sector, the government and civil society groups to provide business solutions for sustainability issues can also improve the level of trusts among these actors, especially if transparent discussions and exchange of knowledge take place regularly.

Regardless of the growing number of companies taking part in sustainability platforms, it seems that the current and future environmental problems may be too big to be solved by even “the progressives” and “champions” of the private sector. There is definitely a need for a critical mass of investors and corporates so that there will not be any significant “bootleggers” and “free-riders”.

A significant and larger number of investors and corporates which promote and undertake sustainable practices can reduce costs and investments in greening the economy. A critical mass of the private sector involving in sustainability means that “the champions” of the industry will not be isolated just because they implement sustainable practices.

To achieve such situation, the private sector needs to pro-actively engage the government and seek for the support from the civil society and the media to push for better corporate governance, in which transparency is promoted, corruptions are seriously dealt with and a level of playing field is created.

According to the Global Compact Network Indonesia, good governance is a critical enabling factor. Good governance principles, such as transparency, accountability and responsiveness, therefore, should be promoted as fundamental values to guide efforts to achieve sustainability.

The private sector can further lead the way by improving its internal policies and operations, and creating funds to support such actions. The private sector may require innovation in its approach at different levels so that sustainable development can be carried out in a cost-effective and efficient way.

There is, however, an important component of education and outreach to the public and consumers. Consumers need to understand that efforts to operate in a sustainable manner require their support. Hence, identification of products or services which are really delivered in a responsible and sustainable way is a key.

Honest, clear and accessible information is vital to further promote green products and services. To achieve this, the private sector needs to undertake efforts along the supply chain.

When the private sector can push for both sustainable production and consumption, green transformation can then be considered as “effectively running”. If this is the case, many will likely applaud the contribution of the private sector, particularly toward achieving a healthier and liveable planet.

In a total economic value term, increased investors and corporates focus on sustainability not only are creating better products and services but also fundamentally addressing challenges of natural resource depletion and environmental pollution.

The journey towards greener economy may be long and uneasy, but if the private sector recognizes itself as a key stakeholder and is willing to collaboratively lead the way, this journey may yield immediate benefits and better outcomes in the future.

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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.

Rio+20 and challenges towards sustainable development

East Asia Forum, June 21st, 2012, Author: Fitrian Ardiansyah, ANU
Original link: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2012/06/21/rio20-and-challenges-towards-sustainable-development/
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), otherwise known as Rio+20, commenced yesterday (20 June) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

This is one of the world’s largest-ever environment conferences, and a useful point at which to examine the progress and regress of countries in advancing sustainable development over the past few decades.

Sustainable development emphasises a holistic, equitable and forward-looking approach to decision making at all levels — not just focusing on economic performance but also on the environmental and social aspects of development, including intra-generational and inter-generatonal equity. The concept was developed in the 1987 Brundtland Report, and re-affirmed at the Rio Earth Summit 1992. This year’s UNCSD marks the 20th anniversary of that summit.

Twenty years on, countries around the world must now demonstrate whether their development paths have upheld the principles of sustainable development, through rethinking their economic growth, advancing social equity and ensuring environmental protection at all levels.

According to many scholars, some progress toward achieving sustainable development is being accomplished, albeit very slowly. Reports show an increase in collaboration between state and non-state actors, which has brought about gradual but important changes, including the promotion, development and application of sustainability principles in the management of key commodities, including forestry (through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)), fishery (through the Marine Stewardship Council) and palm oil (through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil).

In Indonesia, prior to 2009, only 1.1 million hectares of forests were certified under the FSC, amounting to 2 per cent of the country’s production forests. Now, approximately 26 companies with a total 2.6 million hectares of forests are undertaking a rigorous process for FSC certification.

In addition to the Timber Legality Verification System (SVLK) implemented in 2009, which aims to verify the legality of all traded Indonesian timber products, forest certification is seeing Indonesia gradually move toward sustainable forestry practices. But, as those forests certified under FSC still make up only a small proportion of Indonesia’s total forests, achieving sustainability in this sector is still a significant challenge.

Progress has also been made in the prevention of biodiversity loss. In this sense, the Heart of Borneo (HoB) initiative can be seen as a test for Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei in conserving and sustainably managing 22 million hectares of important forest and terrestrial ecosystems.

However, promoting conservation and sustainable forest managementon such a significant scale requires not only political willingness but also concrete incentives and practical solutions on the ground.

Another immmediate political challenge for the HoB initiative is that a development policy released by the same government, the Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia’s Economic Development (MP3EI), may contradict efforts to protect, conserve and sustainably manage its forests and biodiversity in this area.

A recent discussion among scholars, high-ranking government officials, business practioners and NGO activists in Jakarta, facilitated by the Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy, agreed that the MP3EI may overlook environmental persectives and parameters.

If the conflict is not addressed, some actors involved in land-use activities in Borneo may use the economic development master plan as an excuse to continue their business-as-usual activities.

When it comes to creating incentives and developing practical solutions, the Rio+20 conference lists ‘green economy’ as one of its two major themes. The ‘green economy’ approach will presumably provide a platform for countries or other entities to address threats to sustainable developmant and conservation, and improve enabling conditions and propose solutions at a practical level.

The HoB initiative, at the Rio+20 conference, is launching a report entitled ‘Investing in Nature for a Green Economy’. This report is intended to show that the initiative concretely and seriously tackles existing and future threats, particularly from unsustainable land-use activities, and further improves enabling conditions, namely good economic policies that create positive incentives, good governance, clear land tenure and environmentally friendly sectoral development.

By using the ‘green economy’ concept, it is expected that the initiative can transform economic growth in the area, particularly through shifting investments — public and private, domestic and international — toward emerging green sectors and the greening of existing sectors, complemented by changes to unsustainable consumption patterns.

Natural capital, especially biodiversity, is under threat at the global level. In its State of Biodiversity of Asia and the Pacific (2010), UNEP ranked Indonesia second after Australia as having the most threatened plant and animal species in the region. The HoB initiative is an important model to demonstrate that development can take place in biodiversity-rich areas without further threatening fragile resources.

For developing countries like Indonesia and its neighbours, reforming and balancing their development pathways is a Herculean task. It is how to move forward with this challenge that is now being hotly discussed at Rio.

Fitrian Ardiansyah is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University, and the recipient of the Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award.