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COP26 forests pact frays as Indonesia calls it ‘unfair’ days after signing up

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A global commitment to halt the destruction of the world’s great forests signed by more than 100 world leaders this week has started to fray, after Indonesia’s environment minister called it “inappropriate and unfair”.

The country is crucial to the success of the agreement, which it signed on Tuesday, given it has one of the largest areas of rainforest in the world. But Siti Nurbaya Bakar, the environment and forestry minister, wrote on Twitter that asking Indonesia to stop all deforestation by 2030 was unjust.

Indonesia’s development must not stop in the name of carbon emissions or deforestation, she said on Twitter, and that the terms of the agreement were “clearly inappropriate and unfair”.

Siti told the Financial Times that halting deforestation was not possible in a country like Indonesia, where a large proportion of the population live in forested areas.

She added any environmental goals must “balance” with the country’s development agenda.

Countries accounting for 85 per cent of the world’s forests, including Australia, Colombia and the US, committed to “working collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation”.

But Siti said that the COP26 agreement “should not be interpreted as zero deforestation”. Rather, she said, the country would focus on limiting emissions from the forestry sector in order to reach net zero by 2030.

Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer of palm oil, some of which comes from plantations built on former rainforest. The pace of deforestation in Indonesia had by 2020 fallen 70 per cent from its 2016 peak, according to Global Forest Watch data.

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However, the government’s ban on new palm oil concessions expired in September 2021 and has not yet been replaced.

Indonesia’s comments are the latest blow to the deforestation pledge. It was criticised almost immediately over how it would be enforced and whether it would prove more effective than previous commitments.

The remarks from Siti also drew attention to the difficult relationship between environmental and economic goals in developing countries.

“For all the countries in the global south there is a sensitivity about having things imposed on them from the north,” said Justin Adams, executive director of the Tropical Forest Alliance.

“They are worried that there’s somehow an anti-development agenda, that it’s somehow trying to hold Indonesia back.”

Indonesia is also an exporter of thermal coal. In recent months, the resource-rich country’s currency and equities markets have been riding high on the global energy crunch and surging demand for coal from China.

Adams added that, while the Jokowi government “deserves a lot of credit” for its progress in fighting deforestation over the past 10 years, the difficulty remained how to find ways to preserve forests without endangering the existence of those who lived there.

“The commitments are easy, the complicated work . . . is how do we get on and implement,” he said.

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