By: Our Correspondent

un-climateThe 12-day United
Nations conference that got underway today on Indonesia’s
resort island of Bali is the world’s largest global warming
conference ever. According to UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon, it is
expected to lead to a “comprehensive climate change deal that
all nations can embrace.”

While the main agenda
of the protracted powwow, under the aegis of the UN Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to come up with a common
strategy to combat global warming, Ban’s optimism on what may
be achieved seems somewhat misplaced.

A UN Human Development
Report released a week ago warns that unless the international
community agrees to cut carbon emissions by half over the next
generation, climate change is likely to cause "large-scale human
and economic setbacks and irreversible catastrophes."

Developing nations, or
at least those with substantial tropical forest reserves to bargain
with, will use the Bali conference to ask the richer nations, those
with obligations under the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas
emission, to pay to save their rainforests.

Yet Yvo de Boer, the
UNFCCC’s executive secretary and the UN'S chief climate
negotiator, has already warned that that those who expect the
conference to result in specific targets or long-term solutions "will
leave disappointed."

In other words there is
unlikely to be any defining moment for climate change.

Kyoto, the 1997 UN
climate treaty, which has been ratified by 172 countries, obliges 36 industrial nations
to meet targeted curbs of 5 percent in greenhouse gas emission levels
by 2012, compared to 1990 levels. Developing countries have so far
been exempt from committing to reduce emissions, which is why the US
and Australia have refused to ratify it.

Although total
greenhouse emissions of the industrialized countries rose to record
highs in 2005, Kyoto is “fatally flawed" in the eyes of
the Bush administration, which argues that its prescribed emission
cuts could cripple America’s economy.

While Australia's new
Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has said he plans to sign on to Kyoto
in the very near future, effectively isolating the US, de Boer says
that designing a long-term response to climate change that “does
not include the world's largest emitter and the world's largest
economy just would not make any sense."

Indonesia: a test
case

North v South, or
developed v developing, whatever the words used to describe imaginary
battle lines in Bali, the host country, Indonesia, is firmly in the
middle.

Sir Nicholas Stern,
former World Bank chief economist and adviser to the UK government,
and author of the definitive “Economics of Climate Change”
report, published last year, had a bleak message for Indonesia,
warning that its geography means unchecked climate change is likely
to mean more disasters.

"Island states are
very vulnerable to sea level rise and very vulnerable to storms.
Indonesia with 17,000 islands of course is particularly vulnerable,"
Stern wrote.

Yet while it is one of
the countries most vulnerable to the impact of climate change
Indonesia lags behind only the US and China, as the biggest
greenhouse gas emitters on the planet, thanks largely to decades of
rampant deforestation, which still accounts for some 63 percent of
its greenhouse gas emissions

Around 2 million
hectares of Indonesian forests are illegally cleared each year, but
with 120 million hectares remaining, the country still has the
world’s third largest forest area after Brazil and the
Democratic Republic of Congo and accounts for around 10 percent of
the world's remaining tropical forest.

Jakarta has proposed a
so called REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation)
mechanism, as a replacement for Kyoto. Under the scheme, advanced
countries would pay forested countries to protect forests, instead of
exploiting them, by paying them incentives for not felling trees.

Indonesia and the other
forested countries would market tonnes of carbon stored in their
forests to developed countries. The REDD carbon price would lie
somewhere between US$10 and $18 per metric ton of carbon, according
to estimates by government planners.

While forested
countries could rake in billions of dollars from REDD, President
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who last week launched a massive Rp1.28
trillion (US$136.5 million) tree planting campaign, believes there is
much more at stake for Indonesia than that. He says that preventing
self-inflicted disasters is the country's main aim, not "planting
trees just as a show to get a picture printed in the papers", or
because Indonesia is host to the conference.

Some 79 million trees
will be planted in more than 78,000 different locations, in a
campaign which Yudhoyono says shows “Indonesia's commitment to
preserving the environment and saving our planet."

The country's forestry
minister, MS Kaban, has even worked out that industrialized countries
have already run up a debt of some Rp6 trillion (US$638.5 million)
this year alone in Indonesia. He claimed recently that so far in 2007
only 5.5 million cubic meters of trees have been felled in production
forests, as against an annual need of 12 million cubic meters needed.

While the president has
declared the fight against illegal logging as one of his priorities,
the bark could turn out to be worse than the bite, unless he takes on
the huge vested interests involved in the lucrative theft of the
country's timber.

While the Stern report
noted that despite having policies and legislation in place that
favor sustainable forest management, it said that the government’s
capacity to implement and enforce laws is still weak.

Kaban is in hot water
over alleged interference in the judicial process after Adelin Lis, a
timber baron accused of destroying 58,000 hectares of virgin forest
in Sumatra and causing some Rp300 trillion (US$32.6 billion) in
state losses, was last month freed of all charges.

Prosecutors had asked
for a 10 year jail sentence, as well as millions of dollars in fines
for Lis, who had fled to China before being caught there in March
this after a seven-month manhunt.

His release, after a
letter from Kaban presented at the trial claimed the logging
activities were not a crime, but simply an administrative error, was
seen as a huge slap in the face for law enforcers in their operations
against illegal logging.

Kaban has continually
claimed that these operations hurt the country’s pulp and paper
sector, which is almost monopolized by Indah Kiat Pulp and Paper and
Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper, subsidiaries of Asia Pulp and Paper
(APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings (April)
respectively, two of the biggest players..

With seed capital of
$US200 million from the World Bank to help create a global forest
carbon protection fund, Indonesia now has the motivation it needs to
fight cronyism practices that have destroyed nearly half its
forests,. The president has already taken aim by ordering Kaban, a
week before the Bali event, to stop awarding logging concessions.

The alternative? More
flooding, landslides, lowering of the water table, and ecological and
environmental destruction.