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As the crisis of tropical deforestation reaches a new level of urgency due to forest fires raging in Indonesia, an important question is how can the world satisfy the growing demand for forest products while still preserving forest ecosystems? This week, some of the world’s largest companies will join U.S. and Indonesian government officials in Jakarta at the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020) meeting to discuss this issue.

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Last Friday, the World Resources Institute (WRI) published detailed data on the location of forest and land fires on Sumatra, which have spread a noxious and harmful haze across Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, and caused widespread public concern. Governments from all three nations, many companies, and news outlets are seeking data to help understand the origin and spread of the fires, and determine who should be held accountable.

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Penduduk di,Singapura, sebagian dari Indonesia dan Malaysia sedang mengalami kabut asap yang menganggu aktivitas sehari-hari akibat kebakaran hutan. Tingkat kualitas udara di Singapura telah jatuh ke tingkat terburuk yang pernah tercatat di pulau tersebut sedangkan bandara di Indonesia dan beberapa sekolah di Malaysia harus ditutup. Hampir semua kebakaran yang terjadi baru-baru ini (12-20 Juni) berasal dari titik api di Sumatera.

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People in Indonesia, Singapore, and parts of Malaysia are currently suffering from debilitating levels of haze resulting from forest fires. Air quality levels in Singapore have deteriorated to the worst levels ever recorded on the island, while local airports in Indonesia and some schools in Malaysia have had to close. Almost all of the recent fires (June 12-20) have occurred in Sumatra, an island in western Indonesia.

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Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), one of the world’s largest paper companies, announced earlier this month that it will no longer cut down natural forests in Indonesia and will demand similar commitments from its suppliers. The announcement was received with guarded optimism by Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, World Wildlife Fund, and other NGOs who have waged a persistent campaign to change APP’s forest policies.

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Can the world have its palm oil and forests, too? This is an issue that my colleague and I discussed a while back. I am pleased to say that we recently moved a step toward ensuring that the answer is “yes.”

At the 10th Annual Meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), WRI launched two new online mapping applications designed to help the palm oil industry grow while avoiding deforestation. These free tools enable palm oil producers, buyers, investors, and government agencies to easily identify and evaluate locations in Indonesia where they can develop plantations on already-degraded land rather than on currently forested areas. By siting oil palm plantations on degraded or “low-carbon” lands, developers can avoid the need to clear remaining natural forests to meet the growing global demand for palm oil.

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WRI co-hosted a dinner last week to honor Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for advancing sustainability, especially in the Coral Triangle. The event took place at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City, where more than 300 guests from government, business, and the non-profit sector gathered to recognize Indonesia’s president.

WRI’s president, Andrew Steer, opened the event by reminding guests that President Yudhoyono is a “different kind of leader.” Earlier in his career, Steer spent eight years in Indonesia, and he’s seen firsthand how the country has approached its economic and environmental challenges.

“We live in perilous times,” Steer said. “We need innovative thinking and we need out-of-the-box thinking. Today, we have a leader who is an out-of-the-box leader.”

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In Indonesia, policy-makers and industry leaders are developing policies and practices in support of low-carbon palm oil production on “degraded land.” Such policies and practices have the potential to enable industry expansion while avoiding greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation. They also could contribute to poverty reduction if this expansion follows sustainable planning and management practices, including respect for local peoples’ interests and rights.

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Today WRI releases a working paper that provides new information about Indonesia’s moratorium on new forest concessions. Our analysis concludes that the moratorium alone does not significantly contribute to Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goal of 26 percent by 2020. However, the moratorium does support these goals in the long-term by “pausing” business-as-usual patterns to allow time for needed governance reforms.

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With all its complex processes and acronyms, it’s easy to forget that the international climate change negotiations are supposed to lead to changes on the ground. There have been several developments this year, however, which should remind us of the urgency of the task and the importance of getting each piece of the puzzle right, including incentives for developing countries to reduce their emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

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Can the current food production system feed a growing population in a changing climate while sustaining ecosystems? The answer is an emphatic “no.” A new approach is imperative and overdue, one in which the world feeds more people—an estimated 9 billion by 2050—with less ecological impact. To be successful, this new approach must address both how we produce and how we use food.

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The Indonesia assessment was completed by the Indonesian Institute for Energy Economics, in partnership with the Indonesian Centre for Environmental Law, Institut Bisnis dan Ekonomi Kerakyatan, Pelangi, Working Group on Power Sector Restructuring (WGPSR), and WWF Indonesia.

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