When we last met the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) I had hoped that his expression that "we are in the same boat", in terms of protecting the country’s environment, would withstand the test of time. To a great extent, I am pleased to say that it has.
07 June 2013
Indonesian President Visits Rainbow Warrior © Ardiles Rante / Greenpeace
Just a few hours ago, we met the President again, but this time on our iconic ship, the Rainbow Warrior, which is winding up a one-month tour through Indonesia raising awareness about the need to protect Indonesia's forests and oceans. The President visited the ship with the First Lady Ani Yudhoyono, his daughter-in-law, granddaughter and nearly half his cabinet including Ministers of Environment, Forestry, Fisheries, Foreign Affairs, the Cabinet Secretary, head of Indonesian Navy, Armed Forces and Police. It is a remarkable recognition of our work in Indonesia and of course a validation of our work to protect the country's rich environment.
Perhaps the highlight was the President, the First Lady and their granddaughter standing with me behind the rails of the ship where a banner proclaimed in Bahasa: "Our Oceans, Our Forests, Our Future!" And when the Presidential family joined the ship's crew to perform an impromptu version of a Bahasa Indonesia song in front of the media – that was quite unexpected and heartwarming!
But with this unprecedented level of recognition from a head of state, of a strategically important country that is part of the G20 group of nations, comes a need to maintain our unswerving independence and ability to speak truth to power. While this event and the upcoming events over the weekend give a strengthened voice, we know that the momentum and challenges ahead need us to continue to be critical, confront, provide solutions and acknowledge progress.
Referring to his intent to continue to partner with us, the President requested Greenpeace to continue to criticize when needed, and hoped we would provide solutions to problems and recognize and communicate when we also see progress and change. As the fourth most populous nation on earth and a powerful emerging economy, these are promising words. And they are a strong rebuff to a declining number of voices in the country that want to restrict how and where civil society organisations like Greenpeace can operate.
"I ask Greenpeace to remain the partner of Indonesia with its task to remind and criticize Indonesia of things that the country has to improve. And again I would like to extend my gratitude to Greenpeace for what it has done to the world in general and to Indonesia in particular," he said.
This sort of political will is more than welcome and we are honoured by the President's visit. He should be congratulated on the progress his government has made on forest protection since our first meeting last year. Having extended the moratorium on deforestation, he has provided the space needed to push for stronger reforms that could make a lasting contribution to Indonesia's forest protection.
But sadly, Indonesia remains one of the most fragile and threatened environments.
For the past month, the Rainbow Warrior has travelled some of the world's waters richest in biodiversity, and past islands with forests that teem with life and rare, endangered species.
With approximately 10% of the world's rainforests located in Indonesia, the country abounds with natural wealth. But there are economic interests that want to turn the country's oceans and forests into commodities for global consumption. Fifty years ago, 82% of Indonesia was covered with forests but in the past decade, this has dropped to 48% due to relentless deforestation for pulp and paper, palm oil plantations and mining. Indonesia's seas are also among the most diverse coastal and marine habitats, but the country's coral reefs are also considered to be among the world's most threatened biodiversity hotspots, at risk from overfishing, pollution and climate change.
Today was a good day for Greenpeace, our civil society allies and our supporters in Indonesia and around the world, and hopefully one that will spur future leaders to further develop President SBY's environmental legacy.
We know from the past that the world needs more than just nice words.
Kumi Naidoo is the Executive Director at Greenpeace International.