Monday, 12 October 2009

The George Soros way to help delay environmental doomsday

Kornelius Purba , The Jakarta Post , Copenhagen | Mon, 10/12/2009 The Jakarta Post

The faces of Indonesian conglomerates whose business empires have been built at the cost of our forests and our natural resources, our environment and the people's rights to a better economy, suddenly came to mind.

Their prosperous faces were dancing in my eyes, here on Saturday evening when global financier George Soros announced to the gathering of about 300 newspaper editors from around the globe, that he intended to invest up to US$1 billion in clean energy technology. He also announced the formation of the Climate Policy Initiative into which he would inject $10 million per year for 10 years.

But the smiling faces of the Kalpataru winners also appeared. The winners of the government-sponsored environmental awards are mostly ordinary and even poor people who have worked tirelessly to save our environment. Their contributions to our planet are perhaps more meaningful than those of rich businesspeople, perhaps even Soros, because these ordinary activists played their parts sincerely.

Soros, who has often been labeled in Indonesia and Malaysia as the one of the main people responsible for the Asian financial crisis of 1997, said, "I plan to apply stringent conditions to the investments I make. I will look for profitable opportunities, but I will also insist that the investments make a real contribution to solving the problems of climate change."

From what I know, many of the companies or owners of giant companies have returned some of their profits in the name of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. But Indonesia still needs a lot of generous philanthropic work to repair its environmental damage.

But again, please forgive me if I am wrong, instead of following Soros' steps, many Indonesian corporate players and also Cabinet members - even up to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - think they can make profits in the billions of dollars from deforestation and the slush-and-burn practices of giant oil palm plantations.

Advanced countries have offered lucrative carbon-trading schemes for Indonesia, if it can stop the forest destruction. President Yudhoyono has mentioned this issue several times, and many vested-interested people have approached the government to get such contracts.

But Nobel economics laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz, whose views were shared by former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, warned that promised carbon-trading revenue will never eventuate and that the scheme was very likely a false hope.

Hopefully Stiglitz was wrong! But, then should we stop making efforts to protect our severely damaged environment, or even continue the damage to blackmail rich nations into delivering their promises?

Let us look at the Copenhagen summit on global warming. It is only two months away. While the catastrophic impacts of climate change are very evident, there is little hope, if any, that leaders of developing and developed nations will be able and willing to avoid failures similar to those they committed at previous meetings in Bali, Indonesia, and Poznan, Poland.

Should we, the citizens of Earth, let our Mother Nature collapse when we know that our planet is changing rapidly?

Leaders of developed countries know their voters may strike back if they are asked to leave their comfort zones. They prefer to offer lucrative financial deals to developing countries like the carbon-trading scheme. They know they must do their part otherwise a global collapse will be a realty very soon, but they do not want to risk angering their voters.

In a speech to the participants of the Global Editors' Forum here on Friday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Baroso warned that the December summit is "dangerously close to deadlock". As the spokesperson of advanced nations, Baroso demanded developing countries bear bigger responsibilities and not just blame developed nations.

"I am often told by developing countries that we, the industrialized world, are responsible for climate change. My response is, you're right. But correctly assigning responsibility for the past doesn't address the future."

Former United-Nations secretary general Kofi Annan positioned himself as the voice of the Third World. In his speech before Baroso, Annan said, "While all countries need to take steps to reduce emissions, the developed economies must take the lead by making the most dramatic cuts - something within their capabilities."

The two statements reflect the view of two different worlds.

The world leaders know very well that the earth is changing fast, and that every day millions of people become victims to environmental destruction. But ideally, responsibility for this should be shared by all mankind, not just politicians playing their games.

Prof. Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University, however, reminded us there is a possible disconnection between political leaders and elites and people at grass-roots levels. Many people in poorer countries had little choice but to damage the environment just to survive. That is one of the reasons why we have been so slow in combating the environmental damage.

"Nothing has happened in the last 17 years," Sachs said on the progress achieved in environmental protection since the Kyoto Protocol was formed in 1992.

It is a very cynical view. But who can prove him wrong?

We can say what we like about Soros, but his willingness to grant $1 billion to develop clean energy technology is very laudable. Any Indonesians want to follow suit?