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A villager carries buckets of compost on a farm in Pemongkong village in East Lombok, eastern Indonesia, May 17, 2017. The farm practises conservation agriculture which encourages the use of organic fertiliser. — Thomson Reuters Foundation pic

PEMONGKONG, June 5 — In early 2016, when fellow farmers were despairing over plummeting yields linked to a major drought, Hamdi was busy harvesting maize from his land.

He got 5.6 tonnes instead of the usual 4 tonnes from his one-hectare (2.5-acre) plot, despite living in West Nusa Tenggara, one of Indonesia’s driest provinces where agriculture is at the mercy of extreme weather such as that brought by the El Nino climate pattern.

“El Nino did not affect those practising conservation agriculture, but those who weren’t suffered a lot,” the 38-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on a sunny afternoon in Pemongkong village on Lombok island.

Hamdi, who goes by one name only, was among the first in his village to adopt the natural farming method in October 2015, just before El Nino hit.

He was initially attracted by talk of possible savings because conservation agriculture requires less fertiliser, as well as less labour for weeding and preparing land.

But the greatest benefit so far has been its ability to help Hamdi weather the long drought.

Lombok farmers who practised conservation agriculture were more resilient to the effects of El Nino, harvesting about 70 per cent more than those using traditional methods, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

“Conservation agriculture is about renewing the life of the soil,” said John Weatherson, an advisor to the FAO. “It’s about stabilising yield so when the shocks come, the farmers are sitting pretty.”

The method has always been around, but rising pressures from a changing climate, growing population and shrinking arable land have prompted “a search for more sustainable, ecologically conscious practices”, said Catherine Chan-Halbrendt, an expert on the issue at the University of Hawaii.

In conservation agriculture, soil disturbance is kept to a minimum, using permanent planting holes fertilised with compost instead of chemicals.

The soil surface is covered with crop residues as mulch, and farmers rotate crops or inter-crop between cereals and legumes.

These practices help reduce erosion and water run-off, and increase soil fertility and crop yields, experts say.

Pemongkong villagers, who have tried the method for two planting seasons, say yields have risen. Alongside lower costs for fertilisers and labour, they have more money in their hands.

Read more: Indonesian farmers befriend soil to protect harvests from climate stress

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Environmentalists fear it could put one of Borneo’s last best coastal peat swamp forests at risk.
A Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus). The ape is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. Photo by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.
  • West Kalimantan Governor Cornelis asked President Joko Widodo to let some timber plantation companies drain peatlands, even though Jakarta banned the practice last year.
  • In a letter to the president dated Apr. 25, Cornelis makes an economic argument for allowing the companies to proceed as usual.
  • Cornelis is a member of an international consortium of governors dedicated to fighting climate change; Greenpeace said his request to the president amounted to a "double standard."
  • His request came just days after Jakarta sanctioned a timber firm in his province for building an illegal canal through the Sungai Putri peat swamp forest.

The West Kalimantan governor wants to exempt timber firms in the Indonesian province from a national ban on peatland drainage, drawing the ire of green groups who say such a policy shift could spell the end of one of the Bornean orangutan’s last strongholds, the Sungai Putri rainforest.

Governor Cornelis, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, outlined his request in a letter to the president dated Apr. 25 — days after the Ministry of Environment and Forestry sanctioned a plantation firm for building an illegal drainage canal through Sungai Putri.

“Companies will lose confidence to invest in the forestry sector,” Cornelis wrote to President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi. An exemption was needed, he argued, “in order to maintain a conducive and comfortable investment climate.”

Jokowi introduced the ban in the wake of the devastating 2015 forest and land fires, which burned an area the size of Vermont and sickened half a million people. The country’s vast peat swamp zones have been widely drained and dried for agriculture, rendering them highly flammable and prone to emitting huge amounts of greenhouse gases.

Reports of timber firm PT Mohairson Pawan Khatulistiwa (MPK)’s activities in Sungai Putri, one of the last best coastal peat swamp forests on the island of Borneo, began to emerge last year. In March, the environment ministry visited the area; on Apr. 21, it ordered the company to stop operating and close the canal, which then stretched 8.1 kilometers long.

Rosa Vivien Ratnawati, a member of the ministry’s law enforcement team, said that if the company did not obey the ministry’s instructions, its permit could be frozen or revoked. The ministry would also consider a lawsuit, she said.

Read more: Indonesian governor asks president to let timber firms drain peat in his province

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National Geographic Explorer Topher White has created a clever way to listen for sounds of illegal logging.
Topher White set out to preserve Indonesian rainforest like that seen above by monitoring its sounds.  PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL NICHOLS, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Topher White spends a lot of time walking in—and thinking about—the forest, and how quickly we’re losing it. So much so that he’s gotten a black eye from being smacked by flying tree branches.

But that’s just a small example of what the engineer is willing to endure to stop global deforestation. Founder of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Rainforest Connection, White has developed a simple but ingenious strategy: using old cell phones to listen for the sound of destruction.

Forests are disappearing worldwide, and fast: Swaths half the size of England are lost each year. The Amazon has lost close to one-fifth of its rain forest cover in the last four decades.

Forest loss not only harms wildlife, including many species that live nowhere else, it’s a big contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions that stoke climate changeaccounting for about 17 percent of the world’s annual total.

“I didn’t know any of this stuff when I started,” says White, who began his journey in 2011, when he traveled to Indonesian Borneo to help dwindling gibbons.

Read more: Your Old Cell Phone Can Help Save the Rain Forest

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Two years after Pope Francis launched Laudato Si, the Vatican’s plea to save the earth, Trump rejected its tenets and the Paris Agreement. But people of all faiths are unified globally to beat climate change.
  • Pope Francis gave Trump a copy of his encyclical on global environmental protection during the president’s visit to Europe in May. A week later Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • While the majority of U.S. Catholics voted for Trump, and polled less favorably toward the pope after publication of Laudato Si, his bold plea to save the earth continues to energize leaders of all faiths.
  • Examples abound: in May, 55 “emerging faith leaders” from 17 countries met in Brazil to identify realistic renewable energy and sustainability projects for their nations. Also in May, nine large Catholic organizations from around the globe announced divestment from coal, oil and gas stocks.
  • Hindu spiritual leaders are urging the jettisoning of coal for alternative energy, and reducing pollution around temples. Morocco committed to converting 15,000 mosques to renewable energy by 2019. Jordan spiritual leaders have committed to going solar. Change could be faster, many agree, but it is ongoing.
Pope Francis greets First Lady Melania Trump with a smile. The pope and the U.S. president are worlds apart on climate change, with the pontiff seeing it as a looming threat to civilization and especially to the world’s poor, while Trump has called global warming “a hoax” and pulled out of the Paris Agreement. White House photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States license.

On May 24, a grim-faced Pope Francis handed a signed copy of Laudato Si to President Trump during his visit to Rome. The U.S. president, who has called climate change “a hoax,” promised to read the papal encyclical, a spiritual and secular plea to save the earth from environmental destruction.

A week later, Trump announced plans to yank the United States out of the 2015 Paris Agreement, whose prologue was influenced by the principles embodied in Laudato Si. In doing so, Trump repudiated 195 nations’ pledges to reduce their carbon footprint to mitigate the worst effects of climate change; he repudiated Pope Francis and his encyclical as well.

Two years after the release of Laudato Si — and long after its intense global attention has faded — it’s worth asking: is the uncompromising and unprecedented Catholic teaching document fulfilling Vatican expectations by uniting leaders of all faiths, along with their billions of congregants, to take decisive climate action “in care for our common home”?

The answer is a qualified, “yes” — based on evidence from interviews with a range of faith leaders, recent conferences, signed pledges and a host a concrete actions, large and small, in congregations and seminaries around the world.

Read more: People of all faiths face climate change with hope, action, urgency

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Protest banner outside the US Embassy says that Trumph is a climate disaster during protest held by Greenpeace Indonesia. Image: Yudha Baskoro/Jakarta Globe

Greenpeace Indonesia has staged a protest in front of the US embassy in Jakarta over the decision of President Donald Trump withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“President Trump looks likely to turn away from the impact of climate change with millions of people falling victim of natural disasters such as flooding, drought and extreme weather which have hit many countries including Indonesia,” climate and energy spokesman of Greenpeace Indonesia Didit Haryo said.

Read more: Greenpeace Indonesia protesters target US climate policy ‘disaster’

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Indonesia is known to be one of the largest archipelagic nation in the world with over 17,000 islands but coastal areas have been threatened by rising sea levels with a majority of the small islands only one meter above sea level, and deforestation, reclamation and climate change continue to take place. At the coasts of Java island, over 250 households were displaced at Bedono village in Demak due to erosion over the past 20 years, and the ocean engulfs the fishing village. Villagers in Bedono witnessed the disappearance of mangrove forests and fishponds and households are cut off from land as bridges sink below sea level forcing the residents to get around by boat. According to reports, it's predicted that at least 2,000 islands could be lost by the year 2030 due to rising sea levels while 52 percent of Indonesia's 3.49 million hectares of mangrove forests are damaged, with a decline of about 200,000 hectares each year, based on the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. 

(Photos: Getty Images)

Villagers pray at the cemetery that is surrounded by rising sea levels at Bedono village

Read more: Climate change: Shocking pictures of sea engulfing Indonesian coastline

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  • Industry associations representing palm oil and timber companies had challenged four articles in the 2007 Environment Law and the 1999 Forestry Law.
  • The lobby groups had taken issue with a rule making it easier for the government to sue firms for fires that occur on their land.
  • The associations also wanted the Constitutional Court to ban slash-and-burn agriculture for everyone, small farmers included.
  • This week, the groups announced they were withdrawing the suit but said they still intended to seek "improvement" of the laws.
indonesia 20151297-850x310

JAKARTA — Just days after a pair of associations representing the palm oil and timber industries filed a lawsuit against Indonesia’s environment and forestry laws, they withdrew the suit, claiming they needed more time to study the rules.

But they would challenge the law again in the future, Joko Supriyono, chairman of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (GAPKI), said in Jakarta this week.

Under the current legal regime, he insisted, companies are held unfairly accountable for fires that occur on their land.

Pressure groups that had been gearing up to fight the suit in court welcomed its cancellation.

Read more: Lobby groups drop lawsuit against Indonesian environment law

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Jakarta - Vice President Jusuf Kalla said that Indonesia remains committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate changes as stated in the Paris Agreement.

“Indonesia remains [committed to] the Paris Agreement,” Kalla said at the Vice Presidential Office in Jakarta today, after meeting with Ambassador to Indonesia Jean-Charles Berthonnet, German Ambassador to Indonesia Michael von Ungern-Sternberg, and European Union Ambassador to Indonesia Vincent Guerend.

Read more: Kalla Ensures Indonesia Committed to Paris Agreement

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Scientists have once again raised their concerns about water security in the Mekong Delta, saying that hydropower dams on the Mekong River's upper course as well as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia’s plans to divert the river are the biggest threats.

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Le Anh Tuan, deputy head of the Can Tho University’s Research Institute for Climate Change, said the Mekong Delta is facing six challenges: climate change; population increase and migration; natural resources overexploitation; environmental degradation; hydropower dams; and Mekong diversion plans implemented by Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

Read more: Hydropower dams, water diversion threaten Mekong Delta's water security

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Satellite data shows that temperatures in April 2016 soared to as much as 6-7 degrees Celsius (about 11-13 degrees Fahrenheit) higher on Southeast Asia's mainland than the average April temperature of the region during 2000-2006. Credit: Kaustubh ThirumalaiScientists at The University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) have found that a devastating combination of global warming and El Niño is responsible for causing extreme temperatures in April 2016 in Southeast Asia.

The research, published on June 6 in the journal Nature Communications, shows that El Niño triggered the heat, causing about half of the warming, while global warming caused one-third and raised the heat into record-breaking territories, according to the team's analysis. El Niño is a climate pattern that impacts the tropical Pacific, and usually brings warmer temperatures to Southeast Asia in April.

In April 2016, high temperatures in mainland Southeast Asia broke all previous records, exacerbating energy consumption, disrupting crop production and causing severe human discomfort in Cambodia, Thailand and other countries in the region. The especially high temperatures of 2016 made the researchers interested in investigating the factors behind such extreme heat, including the impact of the record-breaking El Niño of 2015 and whether ongoing global warming played a significant role in the event.

The researchers used computer model simulations designed to disentangle the natural and human-made causes of the extreme heat. They also used observations from land and ocean monitoring systems and found that long-term warming has played an increasing role in rising April temperatures in Southeast Asia. Since 1980, this trend has caused a new temperature record each April following an El Niño.

"The El Niño system primes mainland Southeast Asia for extremes, although long-term warming is undoubtedly exacerbating these hot Aprils," said UTIG postdoctoral fellow Kaustubh Thirumalai, who led the study. UTIG is a research unit of the UT Austin Jackson School of Geosciences.

Read more: El Niño and global warming combine to cause record-breaking heat in Southeast Asia

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