06/15/2012 11:17 am ET Updated Aug 15, 2012

Indonesian President Calls for a Green Economy

This week, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made an inspiring speech at the Center for International Forestry Research, calling for a new paradigm in the way that countries and societies approach economic development.

"We need a new way of looking at the world, and a new way of working with the world," he declared. He calls this "sustainable growth with equity," or growth that balances economic, social and environmental aspects.

President Yudhoyono said that Indonesia is working to shift its economy from one in which forests are sacrificed in return for economic growth, to an environmentally sustainable one where forests are prized for the wide range of ecological services that they provide to society. He declared that by 2025 "no exploitation of resources should exceed its biological regenerative capacity."

It was a bold speech, and an encouraging sign that world leaders increasingly recognize that investing in nature is fundamentally necessary for a healthy, equitable and prosperous world.

President Yudhoyono acknowledged that in the 1970s and 80s his country encouraged growth and development without regard to environmental consequences.

"We had lots of forests; we had to reduce poverty; we needed to grow our economy," he said. As a result, logging, mining and the oil palm industry have decimated the country's rich tropical forests. The destruction of those forests produces the majority of Indonesia's carbon emissions, placing it among the world's top emitters of greenhouse gasses.

But today, the country is beginning to reverse course. Under President Yudhoyono's leadership, Indonesia has committed to reducing emissions by 26 percent by 2020, and up to 41 percent with international support. The government has also placed a moratorium on new permits to clear primary forests and peat lands throughout the country.

Indonesia has significant challenges ahead to realize the president's ambitious goals. But what is especially significant is that Indonesia's leadership understands that economic growth can -- and must -- go hand-in-hand with conserving nature. As population growth, urbanization and a rising middle class put unprecedented pressures on the natural resources that sustain our lives and livelihoods, nature is an essential tool to make global growth sustainable.

In Indonesia's district of Berau, for example, The Nature Conservancy is working with the government to reduce carbon pollution by at least 10 million tons over five years -- which is like removing roughly 400,000 cars from the road each year -- through a number of coordinated strategies, including: empowering local communities to better participate in land-use decisions, directing agricultural production to already degraded lands and supporting low-impact logging techniques. The target area also includes vital watersheds and critical habitat for orangutans. It's a "triple-win" strategy that is demonstrating how reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (or REDD+, in the policymakers' community) can simultaneously reduce carbon pollution, protect biodiversity and promote forest-friendly development for the benefit of local people.

When President Yudhoyono took office in 2004, his development mantra was, "pro-growth, pro-poor, pro-jobs." Now he's added "pro-environment" as a pillar of his country's development agenda. "Environmental sustainability is at the heart of all [of Indonesia's] long-term development plans," he said.

As our world's leaders prepare to meet at next week's Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, I hope we see a lot more of this kind of bold vision. President Yudhoyono's speech this week sends a critical message about the importance of ensuring the health of the lands and waters on which natural diversity, human health and prosperity depend. President Yudhoyono will co-host a major event next week in Rio on June 21 convening other world leaders where I anticipate he will make further bold commitments to the wise stewardship of Indonesia's vast marine resources.