Statement On Protecting Indonesia's Forests

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, at a time when the world seems to finally be speaking in one voice about the need for dramatic action to stop global warming, an article in the Jakarta Post on February 13 reminds us that many difficult obstacles lie ahead.

It is well known that Indonesia's forests, and particularly its peat swamps, store huge amounts of carbon. When the trees from these areas are cut and burned, which is happening due to illegal logging and to make way for the cultivation of oil palm, they emit even larger amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

These forests are also home to one of the world's four species of endangered great apes, the orangutan, whose survival in the wild is far from certain.  

President Yudhoyono has spoken of the importance of protecting the habitat of the orangutan. The U.S. Agency for International Development has been supporting this effort for years, and it is finally beginning to show results. It is focused on improving law enforcement and addressing the economic needs of the people living in areas of Borneo and Sumatra where the orangutans live, so they do not cut down the forests.

While illegal logging remains a problem in Indonesia, it is less of one than it was not long ago thanks to President Yudhoyono's government. What looms as potentially an even greater threat to the orangutan, and to climate change, is the expansion of oil palm plantations.

The Jakarta Post article says Indonesia's Minister of Agriculture plans to permit the cultivation of oil palm in millions of hectares of peat swamps. The article indicates that the Minister appears to believe that this would not contribute to global warming because while cutting the peat forests would result in emissions of greenhouse gases, oil palm trees would absorb carbon.

As convenient as that might sound, it defies both logic and science. Indonesia is already among the largest emitters of carbon in the world and the peat swamps are the primary cause. Any significant expansion of cutting and burning of peat forests would contribute to climate change. It would put Indonesia on the wrong side of an issue of critical, global importance at a time when it should be setting an example for responsible forest management. It would put Indonesia on the wrong side of history.

The United States deserves its share of criticism for consuming, and wasting, vast amounts of fossil fuels and being a major contributor to global warming. Many years have been squandered debating whether human development is a significant cause of climate change, even though the overwhelming view of scientists is that it is.  

Fortunately, we are past that point. Today there is almost universal recognition that we must act together, and urgently, to stop the destruction of forests and the wasteful use of energy that contribute to climate change.

President Obama has made clear that he intends to make this issue a priority and invest in alternative energy technologies that do not emit greenhouse gases.  

Indonesia, like Brazil and Central Africa, is fortunate to possess among the last significant expanses of tropical forests on Earth. The example set by President Yudhoyono and his government will profoundly affect the lives of people everywhere, as well as future generations. I join those in the environmental and scientific communities in urging the Minister of Agriculture to reconsider his position.

Finally, it is important to note that American companies are among those that import Indonesian palm oil. China and Singapore are other major importers. They should consider the consequences of using a product that is produced in a manner that causes serious harm to the environment. It is time for corporate America to review its manufacturing and marketing practices to ensure they are consistent with our collective responsibility to stop global warming.

I ask unanimous consent to have the Jakarta Post article printed in the Record.   There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

[From the Jakarta Post, Feb. 13, 2009]
Govt To Allow Peatland Plantations
(By Adianto P. Simamora)

The Agriculture Ministry will issue a decree to allow businesses to dig up the country's millions of hectares of peatland for oil palm plantations.

Gatot Irianto, the ministry's head of research and development, said his office was currently drafting a ministerial decree that would explain in detail the mechanism to turn the peatland areas into oil palm plantations, a move that many say will further damage the country's environment.

"We still need land for oil palm plantations. We must be honest: the sector has been the main driver for the people's economy," he said Thursday on the sidelines of a discussion about adaptation in agriculture, organized by the National Commission on Climate Change.

The draft decree is expected to go into force this year.

"We've discussed the draft with stakeholders, including hard-line activists, to convince them that converting peatland is safe," he said.

"We promise to promote eco-friendly management to ward off complaints from overseas buyers and international communities."

Indonesia is currently the world's largest crude palm oil (CPO) producer, and is expected to produce about 19.5 million tons this year.

Overseas buyers, however, have complained about Indonesia's CPO products, saying they are produced at the expense of the environment.

Activists point to the massive expansions of plantations, including in peatlands, for the deaths of large numbers of orangutans in Kalimantan and Sumatra and for releasing huge amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Indonesia has about 20 million hectares of dense, black tropical peat swamps--formed when vegetation rots--that are natural carbon storage sinks.

A hectare of peatland can store between 3,400 and 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), but emits a much larger amount when burned.

Asked about the contribution to global warming, Gatot said trees planted in peatlands would absorb greenhouse gas emissions.

"The peatland will produce emissions only in the opening of the land, but this will be reabsorbed after new trees are planted," he said.

However, a World Bank report from 2007 showed Indonesia was the world's third biggest carbon emitter after the US and China, thanks mainly to the burning of peatlands.

A Wetlands International report from 2006 said Indonesia's peatlands emitted around 2 billion tons of CO2 a year, far higher than the country's emissions from energy, agriculture and waste, which together amount to only 451 million tons.

The country would have ranked 20th in the global carbon emitter list if emissions from peatlands were not counted.

The ministerial decree is being drafted at a time when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is still preparing a decree on peatland management in an effort to help combat global warming.

The draft of the presidential decree, drawn up in 2007, calls for tightened supervision on the use of peatlands across the country.

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