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Saturday, April 19, 2014
- Clutching a plastic bag containing a tree sapling in his right hand and a slim notebook in his left, 11-year-old Rizki Fauzi is the picture of a young climate change expert.
“I will plant this seedling in my school to catch carbon emissions and prevent erosion,” said the fifth- grade student at the state-owned Karet Tengsin Elementary School in Central Jakarta, busily consulting his notes
Rizki, together with 24 other students from his school, recently attended the four-day climate change education forum and expo from Apr. 19-22, organised by the Indonesian National Council on Climate Change (DNPI), as part of efforts to raise environmental awareness ahead of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, that will take place in Brazil from Jun. 20-22.
The convergence, which marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, will focus on two primary themes: a green economy within the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development.
In July 2011 Indonesia hosted a high-level dialogue on the latter topic, with the aim of drafting concrete proposals to be presented at Rio+20. In September of that year, the country organised the Tunza International Children and Youth Conference on the Environment that brought together more than 1,000 youth participants from around the world to generate input for Rio+20.
Rizki and his classmates were briefed on the importance of planting trees to capture carbon dioxide, the most deadly greenhouse gas produced primarily by the combustion of fossil fuels, and forest fires.
At the end of the forum, students were invited to take home a sapling each to be planted in their schools or homes.
Urgent need for awareness
An archipelagic country comprised of about 13,000 islands, Indonesia has been increasingly plagued by a host of deadly climate-related hazards, including floods, drought, landslides, and forest fires.
The country’s annual rainfall has also fallen by two to three percent, while seasonal changes have made it difficult for farmers to decide when to plant crops, a situation that is threatening the country’s food security.
A 2007 World Bank report named Indonesia as the planet’s third largest emitter, with annual carbon dioxide emissions standing at 3,014 billion tonnes, trailing only the United States – the world’s top emitter – with 6,005 billion tonnes, and China with 5,017 billion tonnes.
DNPI Chairman Rachmat Witoelar, a former environment minister, suggested that lack of awareness among local government officials may compromise the country’s efforts to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.
“Local administrations are still reluctant to promote public transportation, while the people in general don’t want to use public transportation or join car pools going to work,” said Witoelar, who is also the presidential special envoy on climate change.
However, for Rukdi, the principal of Karet Tengsin Elementary School who dutifully accompanied his students to the expo in Jakarta, the challenge lies in convincing parents to take the first step in educating the next generation about solutions to the climate crisis.
Children as agents of change
According to Amanda Katili Niode, communications, information, and education coordinator of the DNPI, the forum and expo were part of efforts to educate, empower, and engage all stakeholders on policies relating to climate change as stipulated in Article 6 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
“We invited at least 5,000 elementary and high school students from the Greater Jakarta area. Many other schools have organised their own trips,” she said, adding that the number of visitors was expected to reach 50,000 people, compared to 30,000 in 2011.
Most of the 75 exhibition participants were government departments and local governments, showcasing activities conducted under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programmess funded by, among others, AusAID, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
M. Wahyu Rozhy, a student of the state-owned 109 Junior High School in East Jakarta, said he learned a lot about climate change and its impacts on humans during the visit.
“This is my first trip to this kind of exhibition and I am really happy. Now I know more about climate change and what we can do to mitigate its effects,” said the eighth-grader.
“I want to introduce recycling in my school. I will discuss the idea with my teachers first and hopefully they will support me,” said Rozhy, who was disturbed by the fact that most students at his school dump all types of trash in the same rubbish bins.
One booth at the exhibition displayed a clean batik initiative, a project funded by the European Union and the German government to encourage batik companies to use gas stoves and natural colours instead of wood and chemical dyes; while a British Council-sponsored stand displayed a local bicycle that produces and saves electrical energy.
The state-owned oil company PT Pertamina exhibited technology that converts coal into gas, while the publicly-listed mining company PT Aneka Tambang showcased a successful reclamation project at its mining site. Other stalls highlighted the environmental benefits of recycling and organic farming.“We’ve just learned that our paper and books come from trees and that the more papers we use or waste, the more trees are cut down,” Vania Mailia, a tenth-grade student at the state-owned 6 Vocational School in South Jakarta, told IPS.
Luniar Aulia Rachmah, Vania’s classmate, said she learned that cutting trees would not only releases more carbons into the atmosphere but also deprives humans of oxygen.
Organisers challenged the students to have mock passports stamped with the words CLIMATE CHANGE 2012 in order to get a goody bag.
With each booth holding just one letter or number stamp, the students had to visit various stalls, whose representatives insisted on explaining their initiatives and posing environment-related questions to the students before stamping their ‘passports’.
But educating children alone will not be enough.
“This exhibition is very important as it teaches us how to deal with climate change. However, why does it draw so little interest from the public at large?” Rukdi lamented.
“It is easy to tell students to recycle their waste or plant trees at school, but what if they are told otherwise at home?” he said.
He believes that teachers must educate parents on environmental issues. “We usually invite parents to school to receive their child’s academic report, that will be the right time to tell them to recycle or plant trees,” Rukdi said.