Indonesian think tanks stand ready to catalyze climate action
Like in other developing countries in Southeast Asia, rapid economic growth in Indonesia has played a role in reducing poverty and improving living standards. However, it has also had devastating consequences for the environment. At the same time, many of these countries are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Intense rainfall, frequent and more severe storms and sea-level rise all threaten life and livelihoods across the region.
Despite the magnitude of the challenges ahead, we are confident that local knowledge and high-quality research are the right tools to respond to these needs. The world is looking for successful examples and the most relevant will emerge from those places where a high research capacity is matched by political will and a sense of urgency. Indonesia, in particular, is one such place.
The need for low-carbon solutions in Indonesia
While Indonesia is one of the world’s leading nations in terms of forest cover and biodiversity, it also has one of the highest global deforestation rates. As a result of these land-use changes and increased energy use, Indonesia is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world. Reducing deforestation and restoring forest cover are now a main priority for the government as per its commitments to the nationally determined contributions under the 2015 Paris Agreement. Finding suitable mechanisms to achieve these goals remains a challenge.
Economic growth remains a top priority for Indonesia, but implementation of national climate plans has stalled, largely due to fragmentation and a lack of coordination among government ministries to lead cross-sectoral mitigation strategies. Challenges related to institutional capacity and knowledge gaps continue to hinder Indonesia’s efforts to develop, implement and monitor evidence-informed climate policies. Improving the effectiveness of local research and advocacy organizations, such as think tanks as well as policy and research institutes, will enable them to respond to local needs rather than being beholden to the interests of donors.
Implementing effective climate-adaptation and mitigation strategies will require a multi-sectoral approach that incorporates all levels of governance: municipal, state, national, regional and international. While building this kind of soft infrastructure and capacity has significant challenges, requiring time and buy-in from all stakeholders, Indonesia has made a serious commitment to achieve this goal.
Think tanks as agents of change
There is urgency in finding solutions and eagerness from governments and the private sector to implement tailored policies and programs addressing unique regional climate vulnerabilities. Solving complex policy challenges requires input from knowledge organizations that do policy-focused research, understand how policy is made in their local contexts and are independent and well placed to engage in the policy process. These organizations understand that climate change is, at its core, a development problem, and that it cannot be divorced from plans and processes for social and economic development.
IDRC has seen how, with the right kind of support, some of the most effective change agents behind climate action are local policy research organizations or think tanks. Straddling the boundaries between research, policymaking and citizen engagement, national think tanks are uniquely positioned to catalyze climate action. Think tanks have first-hand experience with the complexities of addressing economic, environmental and social issues simultaneously; know how politics work in their countries; and have the credibility to convene national conversations that can drive changes in thinking and practice.
For example, Think Climate Indonesia, a joint initiative between the UK’s Oak Foundation and IDRC, supports five independent think tanks, each leading policy-relevant research in a unique area of the climate-change landscape: Inobu examines sustainable agroforestry practices; WRI–Indonesia looks at the role of social forestry in food security; PATTIRO explores the implications of the country’s Forest and Land Rehabilitation Program for climate mitigation and farmers’ local livelihoods; Kota Kita studies the climate “foodprint” in Indonesian cities; and Kemitraan analyzes climate-financing policy and governance at subnational scales with an emphasis on low-emission agriculture and food security. Each of these think tanks understands the need for data, evidence and workable policy options and is skilled at providing them in timely, relevant and accessible ways.
Investing in local knowledge and evidence-backed climate research
While the boundaries between climate adaptation and climate mitigation become less defined, interest in supporting climate resilience and low-carbon development pathways increases. At the same time, the development needs and challenges facing low- and middle-income countries have shifted, and IDRC recognizes that the research, evidence and nature of investments in knowledge systems must also shift.
Fortunately, Indonesia is presently poised to become a laboratory for climate solutions. Not only is the government willing and prepared to invest financial and human resources, but Indonesian think tanks are also well prepared to provide much-needed evidence and advisory services as well as to mobilize key stakeholders and turn evidence into action. Bringing people together around a common goal will make it possible to turn evidence into action.
To truly achieve effective, climate-sensitive policy shifts, Indonesia must promote meaningful citizen engagement and facilitate collaboration between appropriate actors, such as government officials, civil society organizations, and private-sector companies. Funders can capitalize on this opportunity to generate quality climate-related data while ensuring that they are transparent about their motives and not seen as interfering with or influencing existing policy processes.
With this research in place, Indonesia can begin to develop frameworks to move economies towards low-carbon growth and generate resources that can address the Sustainable Development Goals.