JAKARTA – The fight against the climate crisis in Indonesia is being hampered by devastating fires that are threatening the biodiversity of its forests, making the world’s fourth most populated country one of the planet’s worst emitters of greenhouse gases.
This year, the blazes have destroyed 857,000 hectares of land during the dry season, and 709 million tons of greenhouse gases were emitted, according to data from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.
These emissions easily surpass the estimated 579 million tons from the forest fires in the Amazon earlier this year, and place Indonesia in the top 10 biggest emitters of carbon dioxide in the world, alongside more developed nations such as Germany or South Korea.
The main reason for this is that much of Indonesian land is peat, a soil rich in organic matter and carbon, which despite being protected by the government is burned to make way for crops such as palm oil.
Even without the burning of peat, Indonesia would still be at the forefront of the fight against climate change. It is the world’s fourth most populated nation with over 265 million people, and its dwindling forests, the eighth largest on the planet, play a crucial role in absorbing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
But despite these challenges, a study published this year by the University of Cambridge and data analytics firm YouGov showed that close to two out of 10 Indonesians deny that the climate crisis is man-made.
“It is a problem with how to inform about climate change,” Herry Purnomo of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research told EFE. “They don’t care if the temperature goes up by a degree or two, but if we tell them how it affects the production of rice, coffee, they will understand its importance.”
Indonesia has the third most coal mines in the world with 23, behind only China and India, and renewables represent only 10 percent of its energy production.
The government has pledged to reduce emissions by 29 percent by 2030 and bring its proportion of renewable energy use up to 23 percent by 2025, objectives which campaigners think are not ambitious enough.
The lack of interest in the climate crisis was demonstrated during the presidential elections in April, when both incumbent President Joko Widodo and his main rival Prabowo Subianto largely ignored the issue during their campaigns.
This apathy is particularly hard to explain as the archipelago of over 17,500 islands is situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity, and in a region that is among the world’s most vulnerable to natural disasters such as landslides, floods and droughts, as well as rising sea levels.
“There is a clear relation between the increase in disasters and climate change,” Purnomo said.
In 2015, the fires in Indonesia razed 2.6 million hectares, triggering a regional climate and health emergency which affected neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.
Scientists predict that in the coming year, just as in 2015, the cyclical “El Niño” weather phenomenon will bring an extremely dry climate and further hamper the prevention and containment of forest fires.
In addition to forest fires, Indonesia is facing other climate challenges, such as the extinction of hundreds of species, including the orangutan, the Sumatran rhinoceros or tiger.
The archipelago nation is also the world’s second worst generator of marine plastic litter.