Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and United States President Barack Obama shake hands during a joint ratification of the Paris climate change agreement ceremony ahead of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, on Sept. 3, 2016. (Reuters Photo/How Hwee Young)

Why Indonesia Must Not Back Down From Paris Agreement Despite Trump Presidency

DECEMBER 22, 2016

One year ago, the world reached consensus around the goal of limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius to prevent irreversible damage to humanity and the planet. The Paris Agreement, the soil in which these hopes are planted, was dubbed a "historic checkpoint" where – after decades of disagreement and failed negotiations – country leaders finally arrived at the conclusion that something needs to be done. Just last month, however, everything changed. The world started to panic when Donald Trump, who officially secured his presidency through the Electoral College on Monday (19/12), promised to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Having the world's second-largest greenhouse gas emitter pull itself from this pivotal undertaking is indeed a major crisis. But how much should we worry?

First, negotiators were clever enough to anticipate the possibility of newly elected country leaders wishing to retract their nations from the Paris Agreement. Therefore, the agreement – which came into force on Nov. 4 – was designed in a way that it is not legally possible for any country that has ratified it to withdraw for a minimum of four years. To date, 115 countries have ratified the agreement, including the United States, China and Indonesia. It is also true for the United States specifically, where a new president could always re-ratify the agreement.

Second, even without the United States, the Paris Agreement encompasses 189 other countries' commitments, including Indonesia's. These climate pledges, known as intended nationally determined contributions (INDC), are entirely voluntary, and expected to align with each state's priorities and interests. If we can still count on China, European Union countries, Brazil, India, Japan, Canada and Mexico, which – together with Indonesia – produce approximately 47 percent of global emissions, then the agreement is still eminently worthwhile. While it would be sad to let go of Obama's leadership in the fight against climate change, it is a global effort and the rest of the world cannot stop just because a moody man tries to bully it around. Furthermore, beyond Trump's White House, a long list of cities, businesses, civil society organizations and other actors in the United States not under the federal government's jurisdiction still champion the cause.

Having said that, Indonesia should not back down from the Paris Agreement nor its own INDC even under a Trump presidency. If anything, this is an opportunity for President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to step up and – along with China – take the international leadership to fight against climate change. Indeed, there are bigger stakes for the country to commit to its climate pledge, which entails a 29 percent unconditional emission reduction by 2030, or 41 percent with international assistance. Jokowi's leadership in fighting climate change is important in maintaining global momentum, especially given Indonesia's recent upgrade as the world's fourth-largest emitter due to forest and peat fires in 2015.

At the Conference of the Parties (COP21), Jokowi announced that the country would achieve its Paris commitment through actions in the land and energy sectors. In the land sector, Indonesia's main goal would be to place a moratorium on the issuance of plantation permits, as well as the restoration of 2 million hectares of peatland by 2020, with a "down-payment" of establishing the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG). In the energy sector, Indonesia pledged to join a coalition of governments called Mission Innovation, and achieve a 25 percent renewable energy mix by 2025.

Where are we now, one year later? Just last week, Jokowi has issued a presidential regulation to completely ban peatland clearance, a major step forward for Indonesia's efforts to reduce emissions. Meanwhile, in February Indonesia also launched the Center of Excellence for Clean Energy, with the goal of accelerating clean energy development in the country. A promising hope was also signaled by newly appointed Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Ignasius Jonan, who recently signed a ministerial decree to allow independent power producers to sell power – including renewable energy – directly to customers, particularly in remote areas.

While Indonesia clearly still has work to do, we have come a long way from a point where lack of transparency in land sector permits resulted in the clearcutting of millions of hectares of natural forests. We are in a new era where top government officials at least realize that we have a shared responsibility as part of the international community to deal with global warming. A Trump presidency should not slow us down. Instead, it should remind us that common sense in a leader can sometimes be scarce. Let us be grateful for the leadership we have already shown, and make the most of what we can do.

Andhyta Firselly Utami is a researcher and a master of public policy candidate at Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She holds a bachelor degree in international relations from the University of Indonesia.