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Agus Purnomo: No silver bullet to prevent environmental degradation, good governance is key

May 22, 2014

Two days ago, I had the pleasure of attending 1st Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable Water Resources organized by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

This was an event not been missed. The dialogue comprised of a stellar line up of speakers, including not least Singapore’s Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan.

The keynote address was delivered by Mr Agus Purnomo, Special Staff to the President for Climate Change, Office of the Special Staffs to the President of the Republic of Indonesia. Mr Purnomo is no stranger to sustainable development and challenges faced – the topic which he spoke on – having been the “man behind the scenes” toward the success of the climate change negotiations in Bali, Indonesia in 2007 and the Indonesian-Norwegian cooperation to reduce deforestation in Indonesia.

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Mr Agus Pernomo, Special Staff to the President on Climate Change

Mr Purnomo spoke passionately about the need to have a development pathway that does not contradict the principles of sustainability nor exacerbate existing environmental problems. He noted that there should be trickle down development in order to alleviate poverty such as pro-poor assistance schemes for lower income families. By lifting these families out of poverty, he said, would help overcome not only economic injustices but also that of inequity.

Equity is an important principle in sustainable development and in the climate change negotiations since every one and every country has the right to development.

Mr Purnomo underscored that Indonesia’s environmental problems stem from land title and land use permits, and the fact that contesting interests of a wide range of stakeholders tend to complicate matters. He added that in some forested areas, up to 40% of the land is operated by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), which makes it difficult to regulate and enforce laws.

He argued for a new definition of “landscape”, by which we should all apply landscape theory to addressing poverty and environmental degradation and where stakeholders and shareholders can be the vehicles for attaining sustainable development.

There are challenging times ahead, with El Nino reportedly hitting the region in 2 months time. (See more about El Nino here)

Mr Purnomo also remarked that nature does not issue invoices for their ecological services, which is a key reason for people taking nature for granted. If costs were taken into account as a factor of production, “business-as-usual” might dramatically change.

In conclusion, he said that there is no silver bullet nor magic solution to prevent environmental degradation such as the haze from Indonesia to Singapore. However, he stressed that good governance and improved application of sustainable development principles can help inch us closer to our shared goals. Governments need to set the tone and drive policies on equity while the private sector needs to continue building capacity and equip their employees with skills and the mindset to address sustainable development.

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