Elizabeth Harball and Robert S. Eshelman, E&E reporters
Indonesia will announce tomorrow the results of one of its most important presidential elections in recent history, measured in terms of global climate change.
While it’s safe to say few Americans are aware of it, Indonesians have already cast votes for one of two starkly different candidates. One is a former furniture salesman, beloved by the middle class, who has pushed through significant reforms during his tenure as Jakarta’s governor. The other is a multimillionaire ex-general with a questionable record on human rights, although some view him as the leader more able to unify the archipelago nation of more than 17,000 islands. Domestically, the winner will guide the continuing evolution of the nation’s fledgling democracy.
But from an international standpoint, there’s a great deal at stake for the climate. Indonesia’s future president will take the helm of a nation that recently supplanted Brazil as the world’s No. 1 deforester. The widespread logging and burning of the country’s carbon-rich tropical forests, often to make way for vast oil palm plantations or mining operations, has made Indonesia one of the world’s top emitters — by some estimates only falling behind China and the United States.
Many environmental advocates have already pinned their hopes on Joko Widodo (or Jokowi, as he’s commonly called), the populist candidate who appears to be narrowly winning the election. Glenn Hurowitz, head of the conservation group Forest Heroes, said the election’s result could be “a true watershed moment for Indonesia’s forests.”
"You have one candidate who has put good government at the center of his platform," Hurowitz said, referring to Jokowi. "You have another candidate who has tied himself to the status quo of Indonesia’s transactional politics and has associated with some of the past failures … that have led to deforestation on a truly massive scale."
But others aren’t so sure. While both Jokowi and his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, have stressed the importance of protecting the environment, neither has said much of substance on the subject.
"Frankly speaking, not much mention has been given to climate change in the election," said Wimar Witoelar, an Indonesian political commentator, Jokowi supporter and former spokesman for Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid. "The issue got lost among other things."
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By Robert S. Eshelman
The US economy could suffer damages running into the hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century due to climate change, according to a study released yesterday. The report, titled Risky Business, is the first comprehensive assessment of the economic risks of climate change to the United States. It was commissioned by a panel of influential business leaders and former government officials, including hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Bush administration Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
“I have had a fair amount of experience over my career in attempting to understand and manage risk,” said Paulson, alluding to the 2008 financial collapse. “In many ways the climate bubble is actually more cruel and more perverse.”
Among the study’s conclusions:
– By 2050, between $66 billion and $106 billion worth of coastal property will likely be below sea level, rising to $238 billion to $507 billion by 2100.
– Extreme storms and hurricanes will likely cause damages exceeding $42 billion annually along the eastern seaboard and Gulf Coast.
– Labor productivity, of outdoor workers, such as in construction, utility maintenance, landscaping and agriculture, particularly in the Southeast, could shrink by as much as 3 percent due to the projected number of days with temperatures topping 95 degrees.
– Agricultural yields could plummet by as much as 70 percent due to extreme heat waves.