Opinion: Indonesia's heated presidential election may be 'watershed moment' for deforestation and global climate

21 July 2014

by Elizabeth Hardball and Robert S. Eshelman

Indonesia will announce tomorrow the results of one of its most important presidential elections in recent history, measured in terms of global climate change.

While it's safe to say few Americans are aware of it, Indonesians have already cast votes for one of two starkly different candidates. One is a former furniture salesman, beloved by the middle class, who has pushed through significant reforms during his tenure as Jakarta's governor. The other is a multimillionaire ex-general with a questionable record on human rights, although some view him as the leader more able to unify the archipelago nation of more than 17,000 islands. Domestically, the winner will guide the continuing evolution of the nation's fledgling democracy.

But from an international standpoint, there's a great deal at stake for the climate. Indonesia's future president will take the helm of a nation that recently supplanted Brazil as the world's No. 1 deforester. The widespread logging and burning of the country's carbon-rich tropical forests, often to make way for vast oil palm plantations or mining operations, has made Indonesia one of the world's top emitters -- by some estimates only falling behind China and the United States.

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