Thursday, 4 June 2009

Political Talk Crowds Out Environment: Ex-Minister

Political Talk Crowds Out Environment: Ex-Minister

Source: The Jakarta Globe - April 22, 2009
By Fidelis E. Satriastanti

Former Environment Minister Emil Salim has criticized the public and the media for being preoccupied with the daily political machinations ahead of the presidential election and failing to force politicians to focus on environmental concerns.

“Currently, the people seem to be struggling with 1,001 questions about who’s going to be the next president or vice president, who’s going to form a coalition with who, but this is only short-term [thinking],” he said. “I have not seen any interviews or discussions in the media about what stance the country is taking on the environment.”

Speaking on Earth Day on Wednesday, Salim, a prominent environmentalist, said it was vital to make the environment and its management, or rather the exploitation of the nation’s resources, mainstream issues. “Political issues, such as the presidential race and coalition building for the parties are important, but please, we need to take environmental issues into consideration.”

The economist and New Order-era politician, who served in a number of capacities within Suharto’s cabinet, including as minister overseeing the environment from 1978 to 1993, said Earth Day provided the perfect opportunity to remind people about the importance of the planet and its preservation.

Earth Day has been celebrated since 1970 in the United States when its founder, Gaylord Nelson, then a US Senator from Wisconsin, proposed the first nationwide environmental protest “to shake up the political establishment and force this issue onto the national agenda.”

Later, the date was recognized by more countries that were tackling different environmental issues such as water, forests, biodiversity and climate change. This year’s international theme is “The Green Generation,” focusing on regular people addressing climate change on a daily basis. “We can’t just decide that today we want to talk about climate change but tomorrow something else,” Salim said, adding that everyone must take a stand on the issue.

He also criticized the government for placing the burden of dealing with environmental issues on the shoulders of the State Ministry for the Environment — which is not a full government ministry — because the office of the president and the ministry were unable to deal with the issue alone.

“This is the era of decentralization where all local governments, starting from governors, mayors, legislators and local legislators are being directly voted for by the people,” he said. “Those are the ones who have the power, who are supposed to make the environment a vital issue.”

Mubariq Ahmad, executive director of World Wildlife Fund Indonesia, said Earth Day remained an important issue for the country because it reminded people to be aware of the state of our environment.

“For the last three years, the talks on climate change have developed very quickly. These are issues that need to be addressed because we are talking about natural disasters, food security, and sinking islands,” he said. “But there are also plenty of ways to save our planet.”