Malaysia can learn from Indonesia on Environment

September 29, 2009

Why Indonesia emerged as the true hero at G20

By Jonathan Wootliff *

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

It appears that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) understands what is the real crisis facing our planet. With the continuing popular obsession with global economic woes, most of the leaders attending last week’s G20 summit in Pittsburgh came prepared with more of the same, worn-out rhetoric about the need to fortify the world’s financial systems.

Buoyed up from his recent election victory, a newly emboldened  SBY joined fellow government heads attended the meeting in the US former steel town playing a refreshingly different tune.

He presented a case study to his counterparts on Indonesia’s innovative strategy to wean this nation off addictive fuel subsidies. For as worrying as it may be, he clearly recognizes that the growing threat of climate change will make the current financial troubles look like a fly on an elephant’s back.

This President knows that the untamed escalation in the use of fossil fuels is creating the greenhouse gas emissions that will ultimately cause untold damage to the planet – which all of the world’s treasuries will be unable to fix.

Thankfully, his US counterpart, Barack Obama, shares his concern, which is why he was invited to explain his fuel subsidy reduction policy to the summit, in the hope that other nations would follow suit.

After years of increasing fuel subsidies, Indonesia has instituted a cash transfer system that now enables the government to direct cash payments to more than 19 million households while reducing across-the-board support.

This action has improved the national balance sheet while enhancing the economic condition of the poorest 40 percent of the country’s population, and heralding a whole new approach to our unbridled dependence of planet-heating fossil fuels.

It was SBY’s impassioned public plea and skillful backroom diplomacy at the UN climate change summit in Bali in December 2007 that significantly helped to ensure its successful outcome. Arguably, without the President’s eleventh hour intervention, efforts to allay the prospect of irreversible global warming would have been severely derailed.

Following desperate last minute efforts to avert failure, it was Indonesia that emerged as a true hero. The country’s reputation on the world stage was appreciably enhanced.

Now, as the G8 is replaced by the G20 as the new beacon for global leadership, it is heartening to see Indonesia playing such an innovative and influential role.

Throughout the years of the Bush administration, too many shortsighted Western commentators unfairly blamed the developing nations for hampering progress in instigating effective intergovernmental policies for tackling climate change.

In subsequently rejecting Kyoto, the original climate change treaty hammered out in Japan 12 years ago, the Bush administration took the parochial position that until and unless poorer countries were prepared to cap their greenhouse gas emissions, that it was unfair to expect the US – the world’s single largest polluter – to do so.

The emergence of the G20 has now given seats at the top table to the very nations previously derided by the last US administration for not playing ball on climate change policy.

It is pure political poetry that one such nation has so immediately played such a pivotal role in shaping new thinking on this critical global challenge.

With a key outcome of the Pittsburgh summit being a unanimous agreement of the 20 nations to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, history will again surely show Indonesia was a true hero in the word’s struggle to prevent adverse climate change.

There’s no doubt that the elimination of subsidies is only one small step along a long road to solving the problem. But it is an important stride in the right direction. And the timing is perfect, as governments now turn their attention to the impending climate change talks in Copenhagen in December when it is hoped that a successor to the Kyoto treaty will be agreed.

Planet Earth is sick. Rising sea levels, failing crops, debilitating floods and alarming temperature changes are just some of the many worrying symptoms which will cost far more to cure than the slump on Wall Street.

Climate change is the real crisis facing the world. It’s time for our world leaders to wake up to this harsh reality.

As one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions, it is gratifying that Indonesia should be taking a leadership stance in helping to avert catastrophe.

We cannot allow our politicians to procrastinate on this issue. Scientists are clearly showing us that time is running out.  SBY should be applauded for his international leadership. He has shown his mettle as a true crisis manager.

As we march towards the Copenhagen summit, with its new found international reputation, I hope we will see Indonesia continuing to play an influential and innovative role in mobilizing world governments in bringing Planet Earth back to good health.

*Jonathan Wootliff is an independent sustainable development consultant specializing in the building of productive relationships between companies and NGOs. He can be contacted at

7 thoughts on “Malaysia can learn from Indonesia on Environment

  1. To follow up their concern for the environment, let us hope that the Indonesian authorities will finally take real steps to stop, once and for all, the annual haze that I believe emanates from their side and that affects millions in the entire region.

  2. The open burning concept was pioneered in Malaysia and a number of Malaysian plantation companies have invested in Indonesia. Before we react, Dr. Sidd, let us make sure we are not causing the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

    SBY was not in power in 1998. Suharto was still President at that time. SBY became RI President after Gus Dur (Abdurrahman Wahid) and Diah Permata Megawati Setiawati Sukarnoputri [Megawati]. But under his Administration Indonesia regained its influence in ASEAN and is now a member of G20 and the largest democracy in the Muslim world. That speaks volume of his leadership. At least, he is doing something about climate while we are seeking to destroy the Amazon until what we are planning in Brazil raised hue and cry from 97 countries; as if what we have been doing to our forest is not enough, we are extending our greed abroad to places like Papua New Guinea, Brazil and Angola. —Din Merican

  3. I mean democracy, New Yorker Bean. Of that I am clear but I am not sure about its size compared to say, Saudi Arabia or Iran. Maybe you can enlighten me.–Din Merican

  4. Saudi Arabia and Iran combined do not even come close to the 200 plus million people in Indonesia.

    Size matters. That’s what Rosmah used to tell me.

    Saudi Arabia and Iran are not even democracies! They may have elections. But it is what happens between elections that matter.

  5. What happens in Brazil is not relevant to our debate. Every year for the past few years almost the entire region has been blanketed by haze over weeks on end causing untold misery and hardship. No matter who the owners of the plantations/holdings are it is Indonesia’s responsibility to deal with the problem. So far we have only had annual hand-wringing and vague promises to tackle the issue.

    SBY is undoubtedly a popular and visionary leader of this great country but his government’s concern for the environment will ring hollow if it continues to ignore what is probably one of the world’s biggest environment tragedies and one that is allowed to occur annually.

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