First Look

Indonesia ratifies Paris climate deal. Does it matter?

Indonesia is one of the world's largest polluters, but its parliament's has agreed to shift course.

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    An aircraft marshall guides an airplane as it prepares to taxi, as haze shrouds the tarmac at Sultan Mahmud Baddarudin airport in Palembang, Indonesia on Oct. 5, 2015. Indonesia, one of the world's biggest polluters, has signed the Paris climate agreement in efforts to curbs its emissions.
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Indonesia, one of the world’s largest polluters, ratified the Paris climate change agreement Wednesday, two weeks before the global deal is set to take effect.

All 10 political parties in Indonesia’s parliament endorsed the agreement, a key measure before it becomes a law there.

The Paris agreement is already scheduled enter into force on Nov. 4, 30 days after the 28-nation European Union pushed the agreement past the 55 member states, accounting for 55 percent of global emissions threshold earlier this month. Yet, Indonesia’s ratification is significant because it marks the country’s commitment to reduce its pollution footprint, one of the worst in the world. The Southeast Asian country also joins a number of other heavy polluters who have used the agreement to take action themselves, a major point of progress over the Kyoto Protocol and previous environmental summits, US Secretary of State John Kerry said last year.

“We have learned, through the years, that every country needs to take action based on its own assessments and its own capabilities, and those will change over time,” said Mr. Kerry.

By the ratifying the agreement, Indonesia formalizes its commitment to helping to hold global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F.) above pre-industrial levels. In December, 185 countries adopted the Paris agreement with the aim of shifting away from fossil fuels. The measure calls for governments of both rich and poor countries to devise national plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Doing so in Indonesia will likely take serious efforts. Indonesia is a major coal producer. It is also cutting down its tropical forests for palm oil and pulp wood plantations. Annual dry-season fires that are illegally started to clear land for these plantations also release large amounts of greenhouse gases, particularly when they burn peatlands that store large amounts of carbon.

A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change estimates Indonesia was clearing 2.1 million acres (840,000 hectares) of forests a year by 2012, more than any other country.

Indonesia, as well as the other countries that signed agreement, are not legally bound to implement national laws to curb global temperatures. Working against Indonesia is the fact it must implement new clean-energy practices and supplement its economy. But it has valuable partners in other major greenhouse gas emitters, namely Poland and India.

Earlier this month, Poland, whose reliance on coal previously threatened the deal, was one of the 28 members of the European Union to ratify the agreement. Poland is less developed than much of Europe. It also relies heavily on coal-fired power plants for energy production and its economy.

But the agreement gives Poland the opportunity to modernize through underwritings from the European Central Bank, reported The Christian Science Monitor’s Joseph Dussault. Besides reducing global temperature increases, Poland would benefit from less of a reliance on coal for several other reasons: There is an oversupply of coal on the global market, coal mining is intensive and expensive, and most of the country’s aging coal-fired power plants have lost efficiency.

But Indonesia, as the Monitor reported, is one of a few countries, unlike Poland, that doesn't have the financial backing to switch to clean energy.  

“There are much more limited options for you to buy power from someone else to keep the lights on,” Sue Wing told the Monitor. “You are faced with the painful costs of modernization as a sovereign government, facing down powerful unions while also meeting the needs of a growing population who are energy-hungry.”

Indonesia could be buoyed by the fact it might not be cost-effective to continue to rely on coal and other practices such as clear-cutting, a major reason why experts said 185 countries agreed to join in Paris in the first place.  

“The costs of acting are going down, while the costs of inaction are going up,” Michael Tubman, of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a nonpartisan group in Washington that supports policies to respond to climate change, told the Monitor’s Mark Trumbull in April.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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