Obama’s Funding of Indonesia Forests a Big Help to Climate

Written by Paul Mackie on . Posted in Learn, The Wonk Room

U.S. President Barack Obama visited Indonesia this week. Although he saw a country covered with lush, tropical peat forests, the real story is that the country’s forests aren’t what they used to be.

In fact, they are not nearly what they used to be. Approximately 160 million acres have been destroyed over the past 50 years. The good news is that Obama is strengthening the chance of survival for this natural treasure with his climate commitments on this trip, announcing significant funding through USAID to reduce illegal logging and improve forest management.

I asked two of The Nature Conservancy’s experts why Obama’s commitment to Indonesia’s forests is so important in alleviating the impacts of climate change.

Glenn Prickett, the Conservancy’s chief of external affairs, said: “This initiative is an example of the President’s new approach to development assistance, in which climate is a priority. These forests are not only important carbon sinks but will help in future carbon offset trading. To see the U.S. make a commitment to this is very gratifying, especially after the failure on climate change legislation earlier this year. Further, Indonesia is hugely important to the U.S. because it is one of the world’s largest democracies and a stable Islamic country.”

Sarene Marshall, director of the Conservancy’s climate change program, added: “Indonesia’s forests are critical to combating climate change, and the public should value them as much as they value the Amazon. Massive deforestation has placed Indonesia among the heaviest emitting countries. Tsunamis and forest fires that are threatening Indonesia’s economy and general stability can be at least partially attributed to the changing climate.”

As demand for biofuels and consumer products such as cosmetics and cooking oil increase around the world, Indonesia’s forests have been turned into mining operations and palm-oil plantations. A program called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) provides funding for forest conservation and low-carbon development pathways. The Nature Conservancy helps implement these REDD measures that help local communities prepare for climate-change impacts in the Berau forest district on the island of Borneo.

Sarene Marshall added: “By providing the financial incentives needed to make forest conservation a powerful tool against climate change, the success of the science and monitoring we do in our Berau project could inspire other tropical nations to protect their forests.”

These climate change and forest impacts also affect many seemingly unrelated issue areas, including Indonesia’s coastal communities, food security, and social health. Indonesia’s ability to successfully adapt to these impacts is important for national, regional and global security.

Post by: Paul Mackie, associate director of strategic communications for climate change, The Nature Conservancy

(Photo: Mark Godfrey/The Nature Conservancy. Conservancy scientists use GPS to plot Lesan Roiver, Indonesia orangutan forest habitat.)

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