April 5, 2019 / 8:58 AM / 3 months ago

INTERVIEW-Indonesia should not quit climate pact over palm-oil spat - UN official

KUALA LUMPUR, April 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - I ndonesia should stay in the Paris climate deal and lead efforts to curb global warming under the accord, the Asia-Pacific head for UN Environment said on Friday, urging greater dialogue in the country’s spat with the European Union over palm oil.

Last week, Indonesia - the world’s biggest producer of the cheap vegetable oil - said it might consider exiting the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change if the EU went ahead with a decision to phase out palm oil in renewable transportation fuel.

The Southeast Asian nation, home to the world’s third-largest tropical forests, lashed out at the EU after the bloc classified palm oil as a risky crop that caused deforestation and ruled its use in biofuel should stop by 2030.

“We need countries like Indonesia in the Paris Agreement, taking forward their commitments quite seriously,” said Dechen Tsering, Asia-Pacific director for the United Nations’ environment agency in Bangkok.

“It is our hope that there will be better dialogue and communication, so both sides recognise the constraints and the issues,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

Environmentalists and many consumers blame much of Indonesia’s loss of forests and its smog-causing fires on land clearance for growing palm, whose oil is used in everything from margarine to biscuits, soap to soups, and biodiesel.

Last week, Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinating minister overseeing maritime and natural resources, told a conference that if the United States and Brazil could consider leaving the Paris deal, why should Indonesia not too.

“It would undermine the Paris Agreement,” Tsering said by phone. “Even though the United States (is) working towards withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, you’ve had states and the private sector taking on very strong commitments.”

In Indonesia, by contrast, “it is the central government that is taking on the ambition and leadership, so (it is) quite a different scenario”, she added.

Under the Paris accord, Indonesia has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 29 percent by 2030, a target that could rise to 41 percent with international support.

Tsering said Indonesia had sought external expertise on tackling forest fires in the last few years, and set up a global institute to protect peatlands.

A new $3-billion mass rapid transit (MRT) system for its capital, Jakarta, was also proof the country was taking its international climate pledges seriously, she added.

Tsering, who is from Bhutan, said the Asia-Pacific region more broadly was falling behind on efforts to shift to a “circular economy”, and needed to improve the way it recycles and reuses its natural resources.

The amount of materials the world uses has tripled since 1970 and could double again by 2050 if no action is taken, the United Nations estimates.

In Asia, fast-developing economies and urbanisation are driving huge investments in construction and infrastructure, offering chances to promote a circular economy, experts say.

The region should share its knowledge on food waste, waste management and ways for industry to use energy and water more efficiently, to assist countries lagging behind, Tsering said.

Tax incentives and new policies would also help, she said, adding public procurement should lead the private sector on sustainability and green standards. (Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; Editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

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