Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono gave an impressive speech at the Centre for International Forestry Research last week. How his words translate into the political life of his country I don’t know, but it is hard to fault them as an analysis of the world’s current challenges and a pointer to the direction in which we must move. Not many political leaders take the time to stand back and present such a coherent and complete understanding of what is happening to human societies and the natural environment on which they depend. The speech is worth reading in full, but I’ll extract some of the salient points here.
His theme was sustainable growth with equity.
“What are our choices ?
“We can choose to continue to exhaust the present course, the same course that has been in place for decades and centuries. A world where we obsessively chase after economic growth without regard for ethics or the environment. A world of excessive exploitation of resources, and insatiable consumerism. A world driven by “greed” rather than “need”.
“If we go down this path, we will only find more of the same. It will lead us to more environmental degradation. More deforestation. More pollution. More global warming. More endangered species. More conflict between man and nature. And ultimately, more desperation for the human race.”
He notes the increasing prosperity of developing countries and the dangers of the spread of the excessive consumption habit.
“We need a new way of looking at the world, and a new way to work the world.
“Now is the time to promote ‘sustainable growth with equity’. Many refer to sustainable development with equity as ‘development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs’.
“Equity is critical because it is about fairness. It is about justice. Without equity, we end up with restlessness and anxiety. Without equity, we end up with marginalisation. Without equity, we end up with hopelessness and without a sense of shared destiny.”
He embraces the environmental dimension of sustainable growth:
“A key part of sustainable growth with equity is recognising that the serious climate and environmental problems that planet Earth faces are not imagined – it is REAL. Climate change is man-made, and its solutions are also man-made…
“To be sure, we cannot achieve ‘sustainable growth with equity’ without addressing climate change. They are two sides of the same coin. In Indonesia, many of our islands and their inhabitants are already threatened by sea level rise. And rising temperatures and extreme weather patterns have already affected crop yields, a phenomenon that is expected to continue in the years to come. This is, of course, happening throughout the Asia Pacific. “
At this point he introduces the all-important question of sustainable forestry, “critical to our efforts at sustainable development as well as to our climate mitigation efforts”.
“Our forests cover 69 percent of Indonesia’s land area and 31 percent of the global land. They hold a massive number of biodiversity that needs to be sustained. As a mega-diverse country, we have about 12 percent of the world’s mammals, 16 percent of the world’s reptiles and amphibians, 17 percent of the world’s birds, 25 percent of fish species, and over 38,000 of plant species. We consider this God-given rich biodiversity as enormous national treasures.”
He acknowledges that serious deforestation had taken place in the 1970s and 1980s in the interests of development. “It seemed the logical thing to do back then.”
“Today, such a policy is no longer tenable. Losing our tropical rain forests would constitute the ultimate national, global and planetary disaster. That’s why Indonesia has reversed course by committing to sustainable forestry.
“…I am pleased to inform that our deforestation rate has declined from 3.5 million hectares per year to less than half a million hectares per year in a decade period.
“I am also heartened by the progress of the One Billion Indonesia Trees for the World (OBIT) program. I am pleased to inform you that in the past two years we have planted some 3.2 billion trees – not 3.2 million, but 3.2 BILLION trees.”
He speaks of his government’s development strategy as having expanded since the Bali conference in 2007 to be “not just pro-growth, pro-poor and pro-jobs, but also pro-environment. Today, environmental sustainability is at the heart of all long-term development plans, both at the national and local levels”.
Some very interesting remarks follow on the importance of political will.
“In all this, political will was crucial and remains crucial. It was not always easy to environmentally sound policies. But it was necessary, and it was the right thing to do. So we pushed hard at it despite some resistance.
“Why is political will important?
“Because in most cases, the solutions are actually simple, but they are hard to achieve. Reduce emissions. Consume less. Shift to renewables. Conserve forests. Save energy. Share technology. Take global action.
“These prescriptions are all known to us. They are part of the global conscience. They are supported by public opinion. But too often the solutions become stuck in narrow self-interests, short-sighted politics and rigid diplomacy – or a combination of them.”
On the matter of international agreement to reduce emissions he points to the need for developed countries to take the lead, but adds that developing countries should also do more. He refers to Indonesia’s aim to reduce emissions by 26 percent by 2020 and up to 41 percent with international assistance, and expresses his hope for the sustainable development agenda post-Rio + 20.
“Let’s take responsibility for the future of human race and for mother earth. All citizens of the world. Developed and emerging and developing nations. International and regional organizations. Private sectors. Environmentalist. All stake-holders.”
Rhetoric is easier for a political leader than action. But words do matter and seemed to me striking that the leader of a major developing nation should choose to speak in these terms. There’s a directness and lack of prevarication which would come across with some force to the public. It was encouraging to think that the ideas he explores have currency in Asian society. It’s doubtful that they would be expressed by the present New Zealand government leadership. I notice the Prime Minister in a Listener interview this week with Guyon Espiner mentioned Indonesia’s 250 million people as drinking two drops of milk per person per day. “Imagine if they had half a glass. It would be more than all of what Fonterra produces.” Perhaps we could trade some milk for some ideas and a dash of political will.