Summit and RI’s Environmental Strategies

Alan Oxley, Jakarta Post

Environment Minister Gusti Mohammad Hatta has been criticized for not responding to calls from environmental groups to act on forestry and climate change in his first hundred days in office.  The criticism is that he has done nothing about emissions of greenhouse gases.  Yet it maybe that he is more in touch with global debate on these issues than his critics.

The minister was at the Copenhagen climate change negotiations in December. The Copenhagen Accord called for countries to list their commitments by Jan. 31. Indonesia has indicated preparedness to reduce emissions by 26 percent by 2020, but in a context where other nations do so as well.  The US, Canada, Japan, Russia and Australia do not have domestic emission programs in place.  There is no certainty they will.

More importantly at Copenhagen,  China, India and the rest of the developing world turned down calls from industrialized countries and Green groups that they cut emissions because this would undermine economic development programs.  China did not say it would do nothing, but that it would take action that suited its circumstances.

The world map on climate change was redrawn at Copenhagen.

Absolutely the wisest thing to do now is to reflect and review.

The Forestry Minister has pointed out that if Indonesia puts curbs on its forestry industry in the name of climate change, there would be a serious loss of income and jobs.  Clearly a different approach for dealing with climate change is required.

Despite this, Greenpeace continues to call for cessation in Indonesia of all forestry activity.

Indonesian forest owners estimate this would cost the country more than US$7 billion annually.

The solution of both Greenpeace and WWF to the loss of jobs by stopping forestry is more foreign aid.  At Copenhagen they put forward proposals to provide Green welfare to poor countries in lieu of the jobs lost with draconian measures to reduce emissions.

Most industrialized economies would not knowingly act to replace productive jobs with welfare in their own economies.  Yet Greenpeace and WWF consider this a viable strategy for the developing world.

No wonder these strategies were rejected by developing countries at Copenhagen.

So on whose behalf does Greenpeace speak?  Greenpeace would be lucky to have 250,000 individual contributors worldwide. Most are higher income individuals in wealthy countries who know nothing of poverty.  WWF claims it has nearly 5 million members worldwide.

Indonesia alone has 35 million people below the poverty line.  We can safely assume they did not elect Greenpeace as their representative?

What future do these environmental activists envisage for the world’s tropical zone?  Is it a massive tropical reserve run by the Smithsonian Institute and the British Museum where people live on welfare provided by Western aid agencies?  That is a ridiculous suggestion but that would be the logical result if the principles of these organizations were wholly applied.

And to support this strategy they advance the claim that Indonesia is the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.  We have pointed out previously in these columns that this claim is unsupportable.

To put forward these counterfactuals is not to say environmental management and forest management, particularly among small holders, or that management of peat lands in Indonesia needs to be improved.  They do.

But this all takes money.  The environment is better in rich countries because they have the wealth to pay for it. The surest means to tackle illegal logging is to raise living standards in Indonesia so poor people in forest areas do not need to engage in wildcat deforestation to feed their families.

European environmental groups know they are exposed because there is no place the poor in their strategies.  In response, they have started to contend that their forest conservation policies support the poor because more than 1 billion people are “forest dependent”. This is another number that cannot be supported.  The forest research agency, CIFOR, argues it might be 200 million at best.

Greenpeace has now taken to advocating for the forest-dependency of the largely pre-industrial
and nomadic the orang asli in Southeast Asia.

True, the region’s indigenous people do depend upon the forests. But the result of this dependency is a near subsistence lifestyle of which normal features are high rates of infant mortality, illiteracy, low life expectancy and low standards of living.

This leads Greenpeace to another ridiculous proposition that aid programs should support subsistence-based poverty.  It used to be the case that aid agencies would consider this an anti-development strategy. Regrettably even the World Bank now argues that aid programs need to somehow preserve the forest dependency — read destitution — of these groups.

That would be fine if the Bank still supported sound forest policies which strengthened the industry and increased the financial security of the larger number of people who derive living from commercial forestry and plantations. Yet it ceased providing this sort of assistance more than 20 years ago.

Now the World Bank formally supports WWF policies and accepts Greenpeace as an NGO adviser on investment programs to provide alternative economic development strategies for people in poor areas.

Minister Hatta indeed has a lot to think about.  Unlike western NGOs and some donor agencies, he also has to think about effective environmental strategies that support, not undermine economic growth.

Alan Oxley is the Chairman of World Growth.

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