The island nation's high level of deforestation -- often resulting in conversion of rainforests to plant palm oil plantations -- is not only killing off Orangutans. It is making Indonesia one of the world's top emitters of the heat-trapping gases that cause global warming:
In Indonesia, there are 40 million people who live around forests, ten million of them live in poverty and need job opportunities. With industrial forests, people are employed, and it earns government revenue. We need to grow, and the country earns a lot of money from the forests. So if we're not allowed to log and cut down forests, then how can we build? The outside world can't just tell us to take care of the forests and not compensate us.
LOBET: But concern for peat lands and carbon is seeping into government here, and Joe Leitmann, environment coordinator at the World Bank, in Jakarta, says the UN R-E-D-D (a program to pay landowners for reducing forest destruction and degradation), or REDD money, will accelerate this shift.
LEITMANN: We have been looking for an opportunity like this for decades. In the 1990s, the big hope was that people's concern about biodiversity would lead to better forest management. That was never enough to turn the game around. We think that with R-E-D-D it's a potential game changer.
LOBET: Agus Purnomo thinks so, too. Indonesia has a national climate change agency now, and he's the chief. We caught up with Purnomo at a climate meeting in Bangkok. He pointed out that much of the remaining forest in Indonesia could be lost in the single term of an elected official.
PURNOMO: If R-E-D-D going to take seven to eight years to produce revenues – forget about it! No elected official will be interested. Now, are they bad people? No, they are not bad. But they have to make the most of the terms, and if there is no money going to come in until seven years from now, why should they worry about it?
LOBET: That's why Indonesia's climate change chief believes it must become profitable to save forest without delay.
It's breathtaking how political and structural issues like this, which cause people to think only short-term, are humanity's main impediment to solving climate change. This seems to be the case from the halls of the U.S. Congress to the rainforests of Indonesia.
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