UNEP awards Indonesia for ocean initiatives

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In late 2007, during the preparation for the World Ocean Conference (WOC) in Jakarta, the national committee paid a visit to Jusuf Kalla, then the vice president of RI, to inform him of this initiative.

Kalla asked a straight-to-the point question, “This is a good idea for Indonesia as we have vast amount of marine resources. But what United Nations Organization deals with marine issues, and if you know which one, do you have their support at this conference?”

In May 2009, 76 countries and more than 13 international organizations came to Manado for the 2009 WOC. Five heads of states joined President SBY to declare their support for the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) – from The Philippines, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and the Solomon Islands.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provided full support to the Marine and Oceans Management Initiative – the inclusion of the ocean dimension into the issues needing urgent attention.

The leadership shown by Indonesia has not gone unnoticed. At the recent UNEP-Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Bali (Feb. 24-26, 2010), the agenda focused on emerging policy issues in the field of the environment.

The executive director of UNEP, Achim Steiner, presented President SBY with an award for the patronage and leadership in Marine and Ocean issues, the first ever of its kind from the UNEP.

This makes Indonesia the most influential country as far as oceans are concerned. Particular attention was given to Indonesia’s success in hosting the WOC and CTI Summit. This is a remarkable achievement by Indonesia, a nation still dealing with multiple crises, natural disasters and food security issues.

What does the award mean?

First, it is a global recognition of what Indonesia has achieved especially in foreign policy: Raising the ocean and marine sector’s importance in climate change.

In his speech during the opening ceremony of the UNEP meeting, SBY emphasized the catastrophic impact to thousands of small islands in Indonesia if the sea-level were to increase by 1 meter. A global warming of the ocean would wipe out thousands of marine flora and fauna.

This award signifies the need for collaboration between countries using ocean resources to generate wealth – including providing people with sources of protein.

However, this award also signals the problems related to understanding the oceans’ role in regulating climate change.

There are studies showing oceans act as a global carbon regulator, but none showing the regional or national impact.

This lack of local understanding resulted in little discussion within the recent talks at the COP15-UNFCCC in Copenhagen.

We still need to conduct research in order to get a better understanding of the role oceans play when it comes to carbon reduction and how to maintain its benefits, without jeopardizing the ecosystem.

One such attempt is the concept of Blue Carbon, coined by UNEP and other UN organizations. Minister Fadel Muhammad and Mr. Achim Steiner launched this concept at last week’s UNEP Bali meeting, where Indonesia committed to allocating key sites to implement this initiative on a large scale.

Blue Carbon is simple, yet requires commitment from national and local governments to keep the coastal ecosystems filled with mangroves, sea-grasses and salt marshes and avoid further degradation due to development or other human activities.

These vegetated coastal ecosystems have the capacity to capture and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, in the same way that trees and forests do.

In summary, the more studies we conduct – to understand the function of the ocean in relation to climate change, the more it will contribute to our effort to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.