The Norwegian Government is already amongst Indonesia’s strongest supporters in the fight against climate change and the work for forestry protection but now they are adding the whole maritime sector to their areas of interest so they cover both the “green” and “blue” economies. Alistair Speirs has the pleasure of speaking to the highly committed and energetic Norwegian Ambassador to Indonesia Stig Traavik, who besides being a committed cyclist is a former member of the Norwegian Olympic team in Judo.

An Interview with H.E. Stig Traavik, Ambassador of Norway to Indonesia

Norway has put a lot of emphasis on supporting civil society in Indonesia over the last few years. How do you feel the results have been?
The headline from me is this: our support for civil society, in Indonesia has been linked to the “green” economy in Indonesia – protection of forests and so on – but what I turn to now is that Norway is concerned with the “blue” economy from aqua farming to offshore oil and gas. The green remains of course, but the blue will grow. There is great interest from both sides, Indonesia and Norway, with many visits focused on this, and this is where I see things growing, mainly driven by joint – interest – Indonesia is investing in the blue economy and Norway has the experience and technical expertise to help.

Looking at the results up to now? Climate change, forest protection and civil society are all very hard to measure. But there are criteria and progress – and we are happy that the initiatives and goals are part of what Indonesia really needs. Of course we also support on right-based issues, women’s issues and so on, and so often it is only the problems that get the attention, but to be fair a woman born today in Indonesia has more rights than at any time in history, so the progress here has been remarkable.

Norway’s much heralded initiative on forest protection and reclamation has now been followed up by a much needed peatland protection and restoration program as well. Can you please update us on both these initiatives?
On this there is a lot of progress. Last year was a wake-up call-the huge forest fires demonstrated that forest protection, or lack of it, has global implications but ultimately the beneficiary of protection is Indonesia itself. It was a big shock and many people were implicated but it focused attraction and action so this year is much better. There is now continued attention at the highest levels with the President himself committed and I expect a formal moratorium on the draining of peatlands to come out in the coming weeks.

Also being discussed in the parliament is palm oil where the most important issue is productivity, getting more out of the existing plantations, not expansion. If all the plans happen Indonesia will get good results from this.

In the short term protecting but also restoring peatlands is the objective, but the area in South Sumatera alone is mind-boggeling as I discovered on a recent flyover. But dried out peatlands tend to become “desertified” so they may need replanted as well as “reflooded”. But they all shouldn’t be just national parks, we should encourage people to grow appropriate things there, like sawo, to give more economic value. I think we have turned the corner – the President has committed and local governments have joined in. In South Sumatera  all the agencies – firefighters, forest management units and the Tasks Force are alerted together to attack hot spots for example.

How was the visit of the Minister of Climate and Environment in February? Are the above initiatives a result? What else can we expect? Is Indonesia making good progress?
The visit was important but in fact all these issues are Indonesian-led processes. The important thing is the policy is led by the President and the Ministers follow up. The way I see it is when the Indonesian Government changes pace it gives us an opportunity to be useful. The visit was useful but we are under no illusions, Indonesia is doing more and more in their own way.

You have also had some major projects in fisheries. Has the aqua farming in Papua started? Or any other fish related projects?
The Yapen Project in Papua is one of the most remote locations but is close to completion. It is a full cycle fish farming project, from baby fish through to processing – the full system. It is a purely commercial project with the municipality owning a local company who contract to a Norwegian company under an export credit scheme. We expect two or three more projects like this soon, and a lot of people are interested to look at this. Norway has the experience already so Indonesia can avoid the problems that have already been identified with pollution and feeding, for example.

I was very impressed with the Sumba renewable energy project. Have there been more projects like this?
This project has gone well but it’s not the only renewable system: there’s solar, hydro and bio-digesters. For this project we were working with Asian Development Bank and our funding is running out this year, but the vision of making a totally renewable energy driven island remains. I haven’t been back to Sumba but the idea seems to be a good solution for remote areas, since it is impossible to put all of Indonesia on the grid. We hope that when bigger actors become involved they can take these solutions forward.

One of the most sustainable sources of energy is hydropower which Norway has great expertise in. Have you developed any plants here?
There have been some smaller investments but you can expect larger projects in the coming years. Last month Ibu Rini Soewandi the Minister of State Owned Enterprises visited Norway and wants to know how to build on Norwegian expertise. Now there is contact between PLN and Norway which creates great potential for Norwegian investors to come in. One of the great things about hydro is the long lasting effect. This is different from a coal-fired plant which may last for ten years and requires coal every day. With hydro the water comes free and the plan can last 100 years!

Some of the richest places in Norway have been owners of hydro plants for many years, but the challenges are:

  • There is a bigger upfront investment which makes people say its expensive but that is the wrong terminology! If you look over 100 years there is no cheaper technology.
  • Hydro requires a lot of licences and agreements for land and population etc.
  • However if they are successful we could see some great projects, not necessary to be “mega” but lots of areas for small projects.

What are your personal objectives in the next 12 months?
I think my Number 1 objective is to get the “Blue Economy” to take off. In this Embassy we will do everything we can to support the Indonesian Government to make this happen – in addition to everything else we do!

Alistair Speirs

Alistair Speirs

Alistair has been in the publishing, advertising and PR business for 25 years. He started NOW! Magazines as the region’s preferred community magazine.