“As air pollution continues to become a more important factor when people choose where to live, with the haze from Indonesia, Singapore can become an even more competitive destination for top talent” (Adding Firepower To The Fight For Our Forests, Mr. Richard Hartung).
The commentary, “Adding Firepower To The Fight For Our Forests” (June 5, 2010) by Mr. Richard Hartung, gives a brief summary of the “ground-breaking” agreement between Indonesia and Norway to place a two-year moratorium on new logging concessions. Indeed, other than the direct financial benefits for the Indonesian administration if the commitment is adhered to, serious environmental challenges such as air pollution, desertification and deforestation would be simultaneously tackled as well. The two-pronged approach – enhancing technology and tracking systems, as well as addressing institutional challenges such as under-development and corruption – would appear to many observers as a significant breakthrough for Indonesia.
However, the fact is that the United Nations (UN) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been working in the past decades to achieve the aforementioned – albeit not of such scale and publicity – to little or no avail. Considerable sums of money and resources have been pumped into the region – with the active harmonisation of national, regional and international policies – but the ends do not justify the means. There is little reason to think that the current letter of intent would be any different. Even if any short-term success is achieved, the sustainability of the policies would be in question given that the moratorium only grants delays and temporary suspensions.
The problem at hand is a structural one. Geographically, the practices of deforestation, logging and primitive “slash-and-burn” are hard to track and control because of the sheer number of individual islands and forest cover. Having developed the wood-processing industries as a key driver of its economic growth, Indonesia has no choice but to maintain its production capacity for fiscal development. The assortment of conservation efforts have failed miserably because they have ignored the composition of the Indonesian system, mistakenly adopting generalised plans, and ignoring the root of the challenges.
Enforcement measures on collective, small-time farmers consistently backfire because they have little choice but to resort to primitive methods to efficiently clear land for plantations. Even with subsidies, they simply cannot afford new technology, and see no incentives to do so. Rather, the administration should bring the involved stakeholders together at the grassroots level to comprehend their concerns and sensitively address issues of concern. For the corporations that exploit the resources and farmers, the authorities should step up efforts to curb their expansion, and ensure that they adhere to the respective legislations. Stem corruption, and strengthen initiatives to rid of officials who selfishly decide to do otherwise. Transmigration should also be better managed.
It goes beyond the haze and air pollution: Indonesia currently is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. If the status quo is allowed to manifest our future generations might no longer have an Earth to safely inhabit on.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.