Friday, 6 November 2015

Not just fossil fuels

Avaaz is a good thing, of course. An organisation that brings 42 million people together to oppose our leaders' follies and wickedness has to be good. But sometimes it could just be a bit smarter.

Today's Avaaz e-mail drew attention to the fires now sweeping across Indonesia which are "choking 40 million people in the smog, and forcing kids to be evacuated on warships. The fires were set deliberately, to clear land for plantations -- a small, but terrifying, example of the huge man-made climate disaster we’re creating every day!"

Avaaz goes on to link this with the Paris talks and the need for rich countries to switch funds from fossil fuel subsidies to providing poorer countries with "guaranteed long-term funds to prevent climate disasters." Both parts of that are clearly necessary and just. We should stop subsidising the actions that drive climate change and compensate the victims for the harm we've done.

But there's another issue here. The fires in Indonesia are set to clear land for palm oil plantations. The palm oil is sold to the developed countries where it's used in a thousand products - consumed by you and me. And the fires and deforestation make Indonesia the world's 3rd biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. That is not due to fossil fuel use.

Indonesia ought to take responsibility for this appalling performance. In fact its official data are distorted and its Paris commitments completely inadequate. It should set demanding targets and enforce its own laws.

But Indonesia is not acting in a vacuum. It would not be burning its rainforests were there not a strong demand for palm oil and large-scale indifference by buyers to the environmental costs. The developed countries need to work with Indonesia to enforce standards, stop deforestation and find alternatives. That will, of course, cost money.

That's not easy, merely essential.

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