From: The Jackpot Post
Cruising 35,000 feet above India on my way back from Geneva, I stared at the scattered fact sheets on the table in front of me.
I read the headlines partly aloud just to annoy the privacy-invading passenger perched on my right, "In the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, harvesting the forests and using the cleared forest land for more productive purposes raised living standards and reduced poverty in Europe and then the United States. An area equivalent to half the Amazon rainforest was cleared to create cropland which fed people and generated wealth.
Massive areas of forest remain in the tropical zone as well as in the Northern hemisphere, in Scandinavia, Russia and North America. Around 25 percent of Europe remains forested and the idyllic landscape so beloved by the English were created as a result of clearance of forest lands." The piece was candidly written by a well-known environmentalist.
I gazed down through the window of the environmentally "friendlier" Airbus A380, which allegedly only leaves behind a trail of 75 gram of CO2 per passenger kilometer in the sky, and saw the cracked earth below.
The land of India. During the G8 Conference in Japan last year, their Prime Minister stated: "The first and overriding priority of all developing countries is poverty eradication... Sustained and accelerated economic growth is, therefore, critical for all developing countries and we cannot for the present even consider quantitative restrictions on our emissions..."
Polar bears losing their playground inch by inch, rising sea levels, dangerously intense storms - Al Gore and the world's greatest scientists say it's all happening because of global warming.
All this hullaballoo, and honestly, how does global warming really affect you? Despite the ruckus made by agenda-laden politicians and some environmental organizations (which are sometimes mistaken as consultants for CDM project, carbon trading or dancing polar bears) who will be attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 15 meetings later this year - how does global warming affect the everyday lives of everyday people?
What will it do to the umbrella boys who always show up in the office lobby during rainy season in Jakarta, how does it impact the life of a teacher, a mother of two, who works tirelessly in Duri district in Sumatra's Riau province, for example?
Some claim that Indonesia is one of the largest emitters of carbon and that this is caused by development of production forests. The numbers however are disputed. Production forests positively impact climate change because they absorb carbon, but this is not counted by those who make these claims.
As the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) points out, most land clearing is caused by economic development. The fact remains that Indonesia is a developing country where 35 million of its people are still living in poverty. Many live on less than US$2 a day, which is the equivalent of the price paid for a waffle sold on Ginza Street in Tokyo and the cost of single frank sold at a hotdog joint on Eight Avenue in New York.
In developing countries, we have poverty in one hand and cutting emissions in the other. In developed countries, real poverty is only in their history books. And so, what exactly do developed nations have in their hands?
The fact is, global warming or climate change is taking place not due to current levels of global carbon emissions, but as a result of the cumulative impact of the accumulated green house gas emissions. This is mainly the result of carbon-based industrial activity in developed countries over the past two centuries.
The Kyoto Protocol calls on industrialized economies to cut emissions. They accept their industrial development in the last century is the cause of the larger concentration today of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Developing countries do not accept that they should cut emissions as steeply while large numbers of their people remain in poverty.
Yet there are calls for Indonesia and other developing countries to cease converting forest land to other, more productive purposes, despite the fact around one quarter of Indonesia have already been set aside for forest conservation.
For a few seconds, just imagine what might happen if we stop all legal land use change activity in Sumatra. No more chainsaw buzzing, no more excavators and bulldozers leveling earth to make ways for roads. Peaceful. But is it? Can you imagine hearing children laughing during recess at schools in remote location in Pinang Sebatang?
Can you hear the excitement of fathers harvesting palm oil fruits in the field? Can the carbon fund from Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) and voluntary Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects build schools, roads and provide a teaching job for the mother of two in Duri? Not only would the amount of aid provided today have to be more than doubled, but this would turn poor countries into welfare dependents. When for God's sake, would we be able to stand on our own two feet?
Like other developing countries, on a per capita basis, Indonesia is a small carbon emitter. According to United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Indonesia emits 1.7 tons of CO2 emission per capita. Compare this with the emission of our neighboring developed country such as Australia, which is 16.2 ton per capita. Or the US with its 20.6 ton per capita.
In developing countries, poverty alleviation is more the focus than emissions reduction. I just hope that my following message can be heard during COP 15 in Copenhagen in December this year: "poverty alleviation, emissions reduction and adaptation to climate change approach should be planned and implemented in balance".
I am optimistic that it's possible. It's not yet perfect, but all major tropical developing countries have already set substantial forest areas aside for conservation. This was not done in Europe or the US when larger areas of forest were cleared one or two centuries ago, without any precautionary approach implemented.
In Indonesia, many new CDM projects are popping up for registration, large private companies voluntarily are racing to try to reduce their emissions, natural resources such as forests are being managed sustainably or adopting a phased-approach to achieve sustainable management certification. The certification organization itself, such as Indonesian Eco-label Institute is getting stronger and its credibility is more recognized worldwide.
And myself? Well, in addition to switching off my electricity equipment when not in use, sweating my head off supporting sustainable development and forest conservation, today, I am flying an Airbus.
The writer is an expert in sustainability issues. She is also director of Sustainability & Stakeholder Engagement of Asia Pulp & Paper.