Remarks by Ambassador Blake on the Environment at Sekolah Menengah Umum, Sumatra Selatan
Governor Noerdin, principal, faculty, students, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a pleasure to be here at Sekolah Menengah Umum, Sumatra Selatan. Thank you for your kind invitation to talk to you today about the importance of protecting our environment. If I have one big message, it is this: the planet is our only home and we need to do a better job of protecting it.
Both the United States and Indonesia do a lot to help our communities understand how the environment fits into our larger ecosystem; and how what we do to the environment affects our communities, our lives, ultimately our prosperity and the earth’s future. We have had some success in building awareness of how important it is to act now to preserve the earth. But we have more work to do.
While the Indonesian government has taken some important steps to protect the environment, through polices and regulations, there is still much more work to do. A wise friend of mine once told me that the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it. That’s wrong. You, I and all of us must do our share!
I strongly believe that Indonesia’s youth, all of you in the audience, are the key to truly making a difference in environmental conservation. You certainly have the greatest stake in whether or not the forests will be here in 10 to 20 years and whether the seas will be clean and filled with marine life.
You are fortunate to be citizens of a country that has the world’s greatest marine biodiversity and has the third-largest area of tropical rainforest on the planet, with 131.3 million hectares – equivalent to 68% of its landmass – covered by forests. I have had the great fortune to see a lot of your great country: to hike in Leuser National Park, dive in Raja Ampat, swim with whale sharks in Cendrawasih Bay, and see the sun rise over the top of Mount Rinjani in Lombok.
But much of Indonesia’s unique heritage is under threat, from illegal tropical deforestation; illegal mining; trafficking of an estimated billion dollar a year of rare animals, birds and reptiles from Indonesia. But the biggest threat to us all is climate change. Recent research has shown that Antarctic ice is melting much faster than previously thought and that if current emissions and warming trends continue, melting will cause the sea level to rise by one or more meters. That would put parts of cities like New York, Miami, and Jakarta underwater.
So we must all do more to prevent that. The globe came together in Paris last December to agree to each take concrete steps to ensure that the climate does not rise by more than 2 degrees. The United States is doing its part: by reducing the energy we derive from coal; by requiring auto makers to make more efficient and less polluting vehicles; and by scaling up our use of renewable energy.
Indonesia also pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 29% by 2030. It will do so by increasing the energy you derive from renewable sources like geothermal, solar, wind and biomass. And you plan to do so by stopping the clearing of high carbon stock forests and peatlands, and taking concrete steps to reduce the terrible annual fires in Sumatra, Kalimantan and other areas.
South Sumatra was one of the hardest hit regions during last year’s wild fire disaster. For this reason President Jokowi has named South Sumatra as one of his priority provinces in the new peatland restoration policy.
Here in South Sumatra there are two districts with deep peat which are considered important areas for restoration and fire prevention activities. In addition, South Sumatra’s National Parks, Sembilang, BBS, and Berbak are priority areas under the bilateral Tropical Forest Conservation Act debt-for-nature swap that was established between the United States and Indonesia with $40 million. That program seeks to protect forests, wildlife, and promote alternative livelihoods for Indonesia’s people who are reliant on the forests for income so they don’t have to cut down their trees.
We applaud Governor Noerdin’s for his commitments to countering climate change and for his pledge to reduce fires on deforested and peat lands. He represented Sumatra at the climate negotiations in Paris outlining his efforts to restore the landscape in forest areas at Muba and Sembilang National Park Banyuasin through a 5-year conservation project designed to achieve sustainability, safeguarding landscapes of peatlands and coastal habitats in South Sumatra. He has also launched a scheme for what he calls “fire-free” villages, starting with 75 concentrated in high-risk districts.
A lot of times we hear in the news about the conflict between companies and the environment. Some then tell us that a focus on protecting the environment will be at the expense of economic growth and prosperity but that isn’t true. In fact the opposite is true.
A World Bank analysis, found that fires across more than 10,000 square miles cost Indonesia $16.1 billion in 2015 in damage to agriculture, forestry, transport, trade and tourism, as well as short-term school closures and health impacts, equivalent to 1.9% of GDP. This $16 billion is more than the value of palm oil production in Indonesia in 2014, and double the cost of rebuilding Aceh province after the 2004 tsunami.
So the key is sustainable development and specifically how government, the private sector, donors civil society and you – the community – can worktogether to find ways to ensure that economic development proceeds in a sustainable manner that protects Indonesia’s unique biodiversity.
I’m proud of the commitment the United States Government has made to support Indonesian efforts to conserve forests and biodiversity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase Indonesia’s climate change resilience.
I know each of you understands why it is important to protect the environment, but many of you may not know what you can do to contribute and to change the situation.
I challenge each of you to take action as a future leader of Indonesia to solve these environmental issues in your community. You can become an agent of change and find innovative ways to solve environmental issues. We need the next generation to create solutions to reverse global warming and mitigate the negative effects of climate change.
Let me conclude with a wise Native American proverb that says “Treat the Earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
This proverb is a great reminder on how important it is to take collective action to protect our environment. It is not someone else’s responsibility. It is ours to work hand in hand and offer solutions to the environmental issues we have created.
Now I look forward to your questions and to hear what each of you can do or has done to protect the diversity that makes Indonesia so special.