In just three short decades, Indonesia has lost 80 percent of its forests. Rubber, oil palm, and pulp plantations have taken their place. Deforestation at such rapid rates is estimated to send two billion tons of carbon into the air every year, making Indonesia (behind the United States, China, and the European Union) the fourth worst emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.
Few Indonesian islands, home to extraordinary wildlife, have escaped these troubling developments. Explosive industrial growth across Sundaland, the country’s western half – including the major islands of Bali, Borneo, and Sumatra – has thrust many highly threatened species, such as the Sumatran orangutan, to the brink of extinction.
Looking ahead, scientists are especially worried about the impact of global climate change on Indonesia’s environment. New rainfall patterns predicted within this century could produce extreme weather events with even more frequency, pushing sea levels higher and destroying islands and coral reefs. Since half of country’s economic activity happens on the coastline, the effects on local fishing communities could be devastating.
But encouraging developments occur every day. Three Indonesian provincial governors declared a logging moratorium to literally provide the Earth a breathing space to lock in carbon and other greenhouse gases. The transfer of authority to protect land and sea scapes through decentralization resulted in the first-ever locally declared protected areas in Sumatra and the Raja Ampat archipelago. On a national scale, public and private sector environmental leaders are working hard to stop and reverse deforestation and other environmental devastation.