Indonesia: Can’t See the Conference for the Trees

Indonesian Forest
Indonesia's forests are disappearing at an average rate of 300 football fields each hour.
Photo by Tim Mowrer via Flickr

On November 28, the United Nations announced that it had reached its goal of planting 1 billion trees in 2007, just days before the landmark UN climate change conference began in Bali, Indonesia, on December 3. Indonesia, meanwhile, has planted some 79 million trees nationwide in just the last few weeks to offset emissions from the conference. With one of the fastest rates of deforestation in the world, the country has become a symbolic epicenter of a wide range of tree-related activities and discussions.

The Billion Tree Campaign, supported by Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, the founder of Kenya’s Green Belt movement, “is a further sign of the breathtaking momentum witnessed this year on the challenge for this generation—climate change,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. Half of the participants in the UN plantings were private citizens or households planting as many as three trees, while the private sector planted roughly 13 percent. “Now we must keep the pressure on and continue the good work for the planet. Plant another tree today in celebration!” Maathai urged.

Indonesia surpassed this advice and planted 79 million trees. The UN estimates that the plane trips, electricity, and air conditioners employed for the 12-day conference in Bali will emit 47,000 tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants—the equivalent to what Marseilles, France, with 1.5 million people, emits in one day. Officials hope the large-scale tree plantings will be sufficient to more than compensate for the conference-generated pollution. “Our aim is not just to make this a carbon neutral event, but a positive one,” said Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia’s Environment Minister.

But the country has much work to be done. Indonesia is destroying its forests at an average rate of 51 square kilometers a day, or 300 football fields an hour, according to Greenpeace. Much of the clearing is done for Indonesia’s palm oil industry, which is using the land to grow oil palm for use in cooking oil, cosmetics, and biofuels. Scientists now say that deforestation worldwide is responsible for 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

At the Bali conference, Indonesia is one of the countries proposing an international carbon-trading plan known as REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. The plan would set up a system whereby rich countries would pay developing countries for every hectare of forests they keep intact.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.

On November 28, the United Nations announced that it had reached its goal of planting 1 billion trees in 2007, just days before the landmark UN climate change conference began in Bali, Indonesia.