Jakarta Post, Friday, December 7, 2007 10:49:08 AM
Many understand that deforestation contributes a lot to global warming, but few are aware that forest plundering will lead to poverty. On the sidelines of the UN climate change conference in Bali, Papua’s Governor Barnabas Suebu, one of Time’s Hero of the Environment awardees, talked to The Jakarta Post contributor I. Christianto about his efforts to combat poverty through the protection of 31-million hectares of forest remaining in the province.
Question: You often mention Papua’s forests are rich but the people are poor. What are you trying to say?
Answer: Papua is impoverished. The state of people’s health, their nutrition, education, housing and clean water, to name a few, is still very poor. It will worsen if the forest is destroyed. Therefore we are trying to protect our forest and stop deforestation.
There must be a funding mechanism from the international community, an issue that we have discussed with some parties like Greenpeace. The fund must go to the people to improve their welfare. No single tree can be felled.The benefit of forest exploitation for the local government and people is trivial, but the impact is devastating, including the loss of rich biodiversity inside the forest. There’s no benefit at all to plunder the forest, as it is the people who are then made to suffer. Logging activities, for example, have impoverished the people. A timber log is valued at US$10, but the price can climb to more than $10,000 after being processed into wooden goods. That’s why we have introduced a policy aimed at benefiting both the government and people.
What do you expect from declaring a moratorium on deforestation in your province?
There’s been a joint decree signed by the governors of Papua and West Papua, which is scheduled to take effect next January. We are now preparing details of the policy, which will involve various sectors. There will be some supporting regulations to ensure legal certainty, in case of violations.
What is the consequence facing companies that defy the policy?
We will revoke their licenses without paying them compensation. Before a company is granted a concession, it will have to sign a forestry agreement, which requires the company to develop the forest industry in Papua. There has been no development. The agreement is as legally binding as a constitution, so if a company violates the agreement, it must be punished. The agreement will prevent companies from selling their licenses to others. The forests belong to Papua. It is the people who hold the right to award concessions. The companies have to take part in developing Papua by managing the forest sustainably.
What are the potential social, economical and political impacts of the moratorium?
It will be good and better for the people in Papua and bad and worse for those who intend to exploit Papua’s forest for their own benefits, but at the expense of the Papuans. In many cases legal logging has become illegal business practicing illegal trading. Everybody knows about this, but many of us pretend to see nothing, as if the illicit practice never happens.
Do you think such a moratorium can be implemented nationwide?
I’d say in our case, firstly, moratorium is about the responsibility of the central government, not just the forestry minister. We will propose to the government to issue a regulation on regional governments’ authorities, responsibilities, resources and other issues related to forest conservation. Initially, these things must be clear. We don’t want to fall into a state of ‘tug of war’. The moratorium is a part of efforts to stop illegal logging, illegal cutting and illegal trading. Without any moratorium it’s impossible to stop deforestation.
Many people commit illicit practices in the forestry sector as there is no awareness of and affection for trees. It’s no use to launch a tree-planting campaign without the commitment to take care of the trees. It’s scientifically proven that trees grown with music will be healthier than the others.
There have been several proposals on deforestation emissions reduction. Your comment?
Papua is ready to enter the reduced emissions from deforestation. We have to consider and discuss good proposals, such as the ones prepared by NGOs, like Greenpeace. It’s important to underline our participation in such a program, which aims at achieving two objectives: to ensure emission is reduced significantly through a clear and workable policy; and to increase significantly the welfare and prosperity of the people.
What kinds of challenges are you facing now after winning the environment award?
I feel like I’ve been named a hero without going onto the battlefield. The war is just about to start. This is the real challenge and I am about to start my work. This is about protecting and saving the good side. And, most importantly, it’s the people who are the real heroes. They are fighting for their welfare and justice. It’s still a long fight. We are obliged to protect the forests. Humankind will only survive alongside and together with other creatures.