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The Long-Term Benefits of President Jokowi’s COP26 Strategy

COP26 was a milestone for Indonesia. As countries struggle to achieve self-defined objectives to reduce emissions and protect the environment, President Jokowi was one of few who could claim his country was ahead of schedule.
 
Jokowi stated that Indonesia aimed to “transform its forest and land-use sector into Net Carbon Sink by 2030” thanks to sustainable forest management policies combining environmental with economic and social considerations. In recent years, phenomenal progress has been made towards this aim.
 
Praise for President Jokowi’s speech was quick to come, from leading international organizations and public figures such as U.S. Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry whose speech noted that “Indonesia has made tremendous progress in halting deforestation. What happens in Indonesia matters immensely to the whole world”. This recognition is long overdue; Indonesia’s deforestation rates are near-all time low levels, thanks to commitment from both strong government regulation, and adherence from the palm oil community.
 
During his speech, President Jokowi also highlighted Indonesia’s track record in forest protection: “Indonesia’s concrete achievements on forestry sector is beyond doubt. In 2020, forest fires were minimized by 82%; In 2019, emissions from forests and land use were reduced by 40.9% compared to 2015; Deforestation has also fallen to its lowest level in the last 20 years.”
 
While Indonesia achieved those impressive results, the same could not be said about the rest of the world, as President Jokowi pointed out: “All of this was accomplished when the world lost its primary forests by more than 12% last year … and when many developed countries experienced the largest forest and land fires in history.”  
 
It’s worth noting that many countries – especially in Western Europe – have made a habit of lecturing Indonesia on deforestation and environment in recent years. The differing levels of success (many European countries are currently increasing their coal-burning in response to the current energy crisis) show that perhaps Brussels and Berlin should be listening, not speaking, when it comes to forest protection.
 
President Jokowi acknowledged this reality, and said that Indonesia was ready to share its experiences on dealing with forest and land fires with other nations.
 
Praise for President Jokowi’s speech was quick to come, from leading international organizations and public figures such as U.S. Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry who lauded Indonesia’s track record in halting deforestation. This recognition is long overdue; Indonesia’s deforestation rates are near-all time low levels, thanks to commitment from both strong government regulation, and adherence from the palm oil community.
 
Further to the COP26 pledge, the recent Forest Agriculture Commodity Trade (FACT) Dialogue, co-chaired by Indonesia and the UK, concluded with an agreement that palm oil (and other goods) can be traded in a way which strengthens economic development, food security and improves livelihoods – while avoiding deforestation.
 
However, not everyone has understood the significance of those positive developments. Some NGOs and environmental activities have instead attempted to create a stir around Indonesia’s palm oil moratorium and COP26 pledge. The claim is that the end of the moratorium will lead the palm oil industry to resort to palm oil expansion and deforestation.
 
Those voices sniping from the sidelines, including Rainforest Action Network and Forest Peoples Programme have provided no justifications for their pessimism.
 
In a recent interview with Reuters, President Jokowi provided further evidence for why Indonesia will remain a leader in forest conservation, regardless of the expiration of one moratorium. Since the Parliament approved the Omnibus ‘Job Creation’ law in 2020, Jokowi stated about the moratorium: “I’ve ordered for this to be inserted in the law so that we don’t have to renew it every time it expires … So when (the country’s) leadership changes, there is no change in policy.”
 
Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar stated that “The massive development of President Jokowi’s era must not stop in the name of carbon emissions, or in the name of deforestation”, in reference to the COP26 pledge. On the moratorium, the Minister added that her office will not process new permit applications. In other words, the commitment will be honoured.
 
Others within the Indonesian Government confirmed President Jokowi’s comments:

So what’s the fuss being made about the moratorium? This is all part of a deliberate misunderstanding of Indonesia’s position.
 
President Jokowi warned during COP26 that “Providing aid does not mean to dictate, let alone violate the sovereign rights of a country over its territory.”
 
President Jokowi is clear that the situation has not changed and Indonesia COP26 pledge and commitment neither; there will be no more permits approved and the policy remains.
 
The longer-term benefits of this strong stance will be felt by both the Indonesian palm oil community – including millions of small farmers – and the government. The COP26 commitment, and the FACT Committee, underscore Indonesia’s new role as a regional and global leader in forest protection and sustainability. However, this has been done from a position of strength – with the President arguing that all UNSDGs must be prioritized (not simply those on climate/environment) and the Government now in an ever-stronger position to push ISPO as a formal and recognized proof  of legal and sustainable production of palm oil. That would be a real long-term prize, and another benefit for the whole of Indonesian economy and society.

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