Jakarta, Dec 16 (IANS) United Nations Environment Programme chief Erik Solheim has hailed Indonesia’s efforts to become a leader in environmental sustainability, especially conserving peatlands, on his first official visit to the country.
Solheim here on Thursday met government officials, including Vice President Muhammad Jusuf Kalla and Minister of Environment and Forests Siti Nurbaya.
“The UN Environment welcomes the ambitions of Indonesia to become a regional and global leader on environmental sustainability,” a statement quoted Solheim as saying.
Indonesia has made ambitious climate action commitments under the Paris Agreement.
The new moratorium on clearing peatlands — world’s largest terrestrial organic soil carbon stock — is an important step towards achieving those commitments, as is the government target of restoring two million hectares of degraded and burned peatlands.
Progressive legislation is now in place to address deforestation, though law enforcement needs to improve.
The private sector in Indonesia has made commitments to zero deforestation, though more can be done to implement and monitor these voluntary commitments.
At a roundtable with major Indonesian palm oil, rubber, pulp and paper companies, Solheim explored ways to move forward on their zero deforestation pledge.
“I am encouraged by the willingness of the private sector to change. Degradation of the environment can no longer be the main basis for business. I value the promises made by the private sector. Now is the time for action,” he said.
“It’s possible to protect remaining rainforests and restore degraded lands, and at the same time grow the agricultural sector and economic productivity.
“Indonesia’s environmental issues are also global issues. Peat and forest fires pose regional and global risks to human health and the climate. Indonesia should receive international support for its efforts to address these challenges,” Solheim said.
In Jakarta, Solheim also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Centre for International Forestry Research that will foster joint action on preserving tropical landscapes.
The Global Peatlands Initiative led by the UN Environment Programme to conserve peatlands was launched at the UN climate summit in Marrakech in Morocco on November 17 to help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
It will mobilise governments, international organisations and academia in a targeted effort to protect peatlands, which contain almost 100 times more carbon than tropical forests.
Last year’s raging fires in Indonesia’s peatlands cloaked Southeast Asia in toxic haze.
Peat, which is used as a fuel, consists of partially decayed plant material, which has accumulated under waterlogged conditions over a long period of time.
The tropical peatlands are home to a number of endangered species, including Sumatran tigers, gorillas and orangutans.