The three presidential candidates and their respective running mates have been criticized by a number of environmentalists for offering only vague solutions to pressing environmental concerns both at home and internationally. Prominent Indonesian environmentalist Emil Salim, an economist who served as environment minister from 1978 to 1993 and who currently sits on the Advisory Council to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, sat down with the Jakarta Globe to discuss the environmentalists’ concerns.
How do you rate this presidential election in regard to environmental issues?
First, political issues, which are related to the election, are usually current, short-term issues around a five-year duration. For the election, current issues, the issues for today, are short term, [and] are more attractive and interesting than long-term issues. The environment is a long-term issue, it can’t be tackled today, right away. That’s why, in politics, long-term issues like the environment lose their attraction, compared to short-term political and current issues.
Do you think the candidates are interested in environmental issues?
For campaigning, the public is focusing on today’s issues, on current issues, on issues they see right away. The problem of food, the economic crisis, employment or traffic jams, issues that are short term. The environment is rather long term, it has to do with forests, river basins and climate change, which are far [removed] from the focus of political people, or people who attend their rallies and big meetings. So environmental issues have no political appeal for the broad masses.
Should we make environmental issues more politically appealing?
It cannot be made into a political issue right away. It must be [part] of a long-term process to explain climate change and global warming. You have to educate the politicians. You can’t explain climate change and biodiversity in one, two or three hours. It is a process.
Do you think that our politicians today are less educated or less aware about environmental issues?
They know about climate change, but not the intricate relationship between politics, investment, allocation of resources, forestry, CO2, energy, subsidence and so on. These interlinkages are not well understood.
Even though it is still a long-term issue, do you think it’s important for the candidates to address environmental concerns?
It is important for the candidates to commit themselves to the environment. It’s not realistic to assume that they will go into details. Because they are facing a broad audience, an audience that doesn’t quite understand the technicalities of the issue. So the candidates should stick with broad environmental ideas.
Like planting trees, taking care of waste, controlling pollution, being more efficient with water use, practical things that can be understood by the wider audience. They won’t go deeper into explaining the interlinkages between resources, management, environment, pollution and soon.
There is disappointment from many, particularly among environmental NGOs, that the candidates have not addressed certain environmental issues, like illegal logging, forest fires or even the Sidoarjo mudflow. What do you think?
[Those issues] could be raised. The interesting thing is that questions [during the presidential and vice presidential debates] are managed and organized by the General Elections Commission [KPU]. But the fact that the KPU did not include these issues has confirmed my impression that the environment is not in the mainstream of politics.
So, are you suggesting that the KPU played a part in leaving the environment outside of mainstream issues?
The KPU, who were more or less drafting and guiding the discussions and telling the moderator what they expected [from the debates], could have injected environmental issues into the debates.
Source: The Jakarta Globe, July 1, 2009