The symposium of eminent ecologists1 that backed the Conservation International (CI) blueprint to save global biodiversity (covering protection of biodiversity hotspots2 and tropical wilderness areas) concluded that ecological criteria can be used to set global conservation priorities, and that “all conservation must be driven by what a country's people want, not by what developed nations impose from outside”3. The degree to which development priorities of target countries are consistent with the CI blueprint will therefore determine its efficacy.
Two of the 25 global hotspots and one of CI's three focal wilderness areas (New Guinea) cover Indonesian territory. During 1999, I surveyed 125 professionals living in Indonesia and active in development of national biodiversity policy. Based on pilot surveys, I formulated seven questionnaire statements on biodiversity policy and asked respondents to mark the two issues that concerned them most and the two that concerned them least. The response rate was 84% (Indonesian, 74; expatriates, 31). Full details of the survey can be found at http://www.geog.ox.ac.uk/research/bie/papers/indosurvey.pdf.
In descending order of concern, the score for each statement is as follows: (1) creating responsible use of land and renewable natural resources to provide quality and sustainable livelihoods (most concern 45; least concern 14); (2) developing informed and rational planning and decision-making (39; 17); (3) maintaining the ecological processes, services and benefits that underpin human activity (31; 10); (4) empowering local communities in natural resource management (30; 34); (5) conserving species and habitat diversity (20; 18); (6) ensuring that weaker communities do not suffer the effects of environmental degradation created by more affluent sectors of society (17; 50); and (7) preserving native forests and other wild places (11; 32).
The CI blueprint closely reflects the issue statements ranking fifth (biodiversity hotspots) and last (wilderness areas). This suggests that CI will need to invest substantially in efforts to convince biodiversity policy-makers in Indonesia that they want its blueprint.
The management of natural resources is likely to be a key issue in the public debate on the future shape of Indonesia as a nation state, on account of the widely held view that the autocratic Suharto regime (1966–98) plundered natural resources.
At first sight, a promising approach for CI might be to advocate synergistic linkages between its own agenda and the two highest-ranking concerns in my survey — sustainable development and rational decision-making. This is the vision of the critical ecosystem partnership fund recently launched by CI together with the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility4.
However, just such an approach has been pursued in Indonesia since the early 1980s, with little gain for biodiversity conservation5. This is because major threats to biodiversity derive from large public and private investments, not the local communities who are the focus of concern of Indonesian policy-makers and international donor assistance.
A second obstacle to the CI blueprint is the fact that 'wilderness' protection is largely a North American concept, alien to Indonesians.
Ecologists do not doubt the urgency and importance of conserving species and tropical wilderness areas. CI's initiative is therefore welcome. However, translating the blueprint into action will require that policy-makers in targeted regions give CI's ecological goals higher priority than is currently the case in Indonesia, where scientific and economic arguments for species conservation have had limited impact on the ground.