This week data from Guido van der Werf of the Global Fire Emissions Database showed that carbon emissions from fires raging across Indonesia’s peatlands have surpassed 1.4 billion tons of CO2-equivalent, or more than the annual emissions of Japan. More conspicuously, the fires have triggered a spasm of air pollution that has mushroomed into a domestic health emergency and regional political crisis for Indonesia, with Indonesian companies seeing their products pulled from store shelves and facing multimillion dollar fines from the Singaporean government. That reaction comes on top of a steep dive in the Indonesian rupiah and a commodity market rout that has hit some of the country’s biggest exports, including oil, coal, palm oil, and rubber. These are dark days – literally and figuratively – for Indonesia.
Yet Indonesia’s public health crisis and ecological calamity presents President Joko Widodo – popularly known as Jokowi – with an opportunity to finally enact reforms in the forest and plantation sectors his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono failed to implement. Jokowi has both the domestic support from citizens and business leaders to meaningfully adopt and implement policies that shift Indonesia away from practices that have wrecked the country’s forests and peatlands, heightened social conflict, eroded local food security, and made the country one of the world’s largest carbon polluters.
President Jokowi should seize this opportunity for definitive action in advance of his upcoming U.S. visit. Jokowi should use his visit with Obama, and his participation in the Paris climate meetings six weeks hence, to push for international support to help Indonesia root out the underlying problems that have created the current triple-lose crisis for his country’s environment, economy, and public health.