What's Hot: David Fogarty's take on the Paris climate talks

How haze-emitting fires have changed the way Indonesia engages with the world

The recent fires in Indonesia were something of a lightbulb moment for Indonesia in the way it views its development model and the threats from climate change, a senior member of the country's delegation to the Paris climate talks said on Tuesday.

It also triggered a rethink of how the country should represent itself at the talks, said Mr Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, chairman of Indonesia's Advisory Council for Climate Change, and a former environment minister.

Indonesia has brought about 400 delegates to the talks, a large number by any measure.

About 80 are directly paid for by the government. The delegation comprises business and opinion leaders, non-governmental organisations, members of local communities and interfaith networks, he told a press conference on the sidelines of the talks.

"Why is our delegation so diverse? This is partly driven by the crisis situation that we faced this year, which is a massive peat fire. This impacted us in various ways, including in terms of attitudes and perceptions on climate change," he said.

 

He said Indonesia was aware of the greater need for awareness about the severity of climate-related catastrophes and expected Indonesia to face a second year of "de facto emergency" once the present drought-inducing El Nino weather pattern switches to La Nina, which usually brings floods.

 

He said it was important Indonesia established a sense of solidarity in responding to the challenge of climate change as that could help guide the nation's future development path.

"We are, in fact, trying very hard to transform ourselves from exploiting natural resources irresponsibly to green and sustainable economics," he said, adding it was important for delegates to listen and learn from others during the Paris conference.

"Indonesia is also revisiting the development model that has given us rapid economic growth and global trade but has also created deep problems for our civilisation and the future of our children and grandchildren," he said.

Mr Sarwono's views were refreshing in their directness. But much rests on the administration of President Joko Widodo to deliver on promises to restore and rehabilitate several million hectares of drained and degraded peatlands and, crucially, to crack down on companies that flout the laws.

The authorities must also wipe out the lucrative black market for land that is illegally, or questionably, acquired for agriculture.

Much as it irks Jakarta, the government must also respect the rights of neighbouring countries to enjoy clean air - and for those countries to ensure their banks and businesses don't invest in companies that flout Indonesia's land-use laws.

dfogarty@sph.com.sg

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