The importance of Indonesia

by Bex

October 20, 2010


I was hoping to write my first post in Indonesia from the Rainbow Warrior. As it turns out, the Warrior is anchored out at sea, waiting for permission to get into the country from the Indonesian government. The ship and crew have been there for several days now, occasionally communicating with Indonesian supporters by virtual hookup (at this event for disappointed supporters) instead of in the steel flesh everyone was hoping see.

View of JakartaI on the other hand am very much here, in the middle of Jakarta, on the most densely populated island on Earth (Java). What can I tell you about Jakarta? It smells of cloves. The congested traffic crawls. The people are interesting, enthusiastic, gracious. It’s humid – really humid. Every day, a downpour or two washes away the smog and cools the city down; you can almost hear the pavements sizzle.

To be honest, I haven’t seen much of the city; I’ve mostly been in the Greenpeace office here, planning for the ship tour, then planning for a shipless ship tour.

Even so, I’ve picked up a little knowledge about Indonesia from my colleagues here. For starters, it’s home to the world’s only lungless frog, the world’s largest lizard, and the world’s most expensive coffee – made from civet poo (honestly). I don’t have the space here to tell you about the tree-climbing fish.

A lot of things about Indonesia seem to be “the world’s only” or “the world’s largest” or “the world’s most”. For instance:

The Indonesian archipelago is the world’s largest. It’s home to more endemic bird species than any other country (and more endemic mammal species than any other country but one) on Earth. It has one of the highest levels of biodiversity world wide – on about only 1.3 percent of the Earth’s land surface. (Alfred Russel Wallace‘s theories on evolution and natural selection – the theories that prompted Darwin to publish On the Origin of Species – were largely based on his work in Indonesia.)

It’s also the world’s largest producer of palm oil, and a significant producer of paper and pulp used for glossy magazines, toilet paper and packaging globally. Most of this production happens by destroying rainforests and peatlands (which are perhaps the world’s most critical carbon stores).

As a result, Indonesia is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and many of its species – the ones that Wallace studied – are losing their territories and even habitats terrifyingly quickly. Some – the Sumatra tiger and the orang-utan, for instance – are at risk of extinction. That’s not to mention the tens of millions of Indonesian people who depend on these disappearing forests for their livelihoods, including indigenous communities who rely on the forests for everything: food, shelter, medicine and identity.

But there’s good news. Greenpeace Indonesia is the fastest growing office in the Greenpeace world, and they’re leading a campaign for what could be the world’s first deal to comprehensively protect a country’s critical rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands. It’s all up to Norway’s and Indonesia’s leaders. If they manage to get this agreement right, they will succeed in protecting Indonesia’s forests and go a long way to protecting the world’s climate. They will also be setting a precedent for similar deals in the future.

So, for good reasons and bad, Indonesia is extraordinary. And it’s important. I’ll leave you with the thoughts of Kumi Naidoo (Greenpeace International’s Executive Director):

Over – but not out – from (possibly) the world’s first shipless ship tour.

— Bex Sumner

By Bex

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