Bringing Youth to Forests to Raise Awareness

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The endangered Proboscis monkey, endemic only in some areas in Kalimantan, is threatened by the destruction of forests (Photo by Austin King/flickr)

Most of the young people sitting in the room to discuss forest and climate change shook their heads when asked whether they had ever visited a forest. Indonesia holds the third biggest area of tropical forests in the world after Brazil and Congo, but these youth at most have only seen such tree cover from afar during their travels to Sumatra or Kalimantan.

It’s not that the participants of the International Youth Forum on Climate Change don’t care about forest and deforestation, the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia. They attended and gave full attention to the presentations given in the focus group discussion on forest held in Jakarta yesterday as part of the week-long event. The problem is that many young people, especially those who live in the cities in Java, the world’s most densely populated island, lack the chance to get in touch directly with forests.

“Take us (youth) to the forests so that we can see what’s going on there,” said Muhammad Nur Pratama, fondly called Tama, one of the organizers of the forum. For now, Tama is most interested in transportation and energy use among the various environmental issues floating around. “It’s what affects my life,” said Tama, who cycles 8 km from home to his school in Jakarta every day.

Youngsters should be encouraged to care about tropical forests as deforestation and land use change contributes almost 20 percent of total emissions in the world, bigger than the emissions produced by the transportation sector. The world has agreed to deal with this problem through REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), a global scheme to compensate developing countries for preserving their forests.

This mechanism, under which billions of dollars have started pouring in, was the initial draw to forestry issues for Henry Wibowo, an Indonesian who recently completed his master degree from Australia. Dorjee Sun, CEO of Carbon Conservation who managed to attract investment funds to protect forests in Kalimantan in terms of their functions as carbon sinks, is his idol. “He shows that we can be green and making money,” said Henry, who will visit a forest for the first time in his life when he goes to Kalimantan as part of the youth event.

Forests are not valuable simply because they can store carbon. About 90 percent terrestrial species, most of which are still undiscovered, use forests as their homes, according to World Bank data. Indonesia’s unusually high level of species richness warrants it second place in the list of the hottest spots for biodiversity.

It’s not surprising that Fairuza, a participant from Brunei Darussalam, puts the wellbeing of Probocis monkey, or bekantan, a species with a long, big nose that lives in the mangroves in Kalimantan, as top priority among forestry issues. “I want bekantan, which is near extinction now, to expand” in number, said Fairuza. A chance to see the primate, which is included in IUCN red list of endangered animals, directly in its habitat will surely make young generation such as Fairuza to care even more about the conservation of forests and the species that live there.

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