June 24, 2019 / 1:23 PM / 5 months ago

Thunberg proved 'we are not alone', say young Indonesian tree planters

KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thousands of young Indonesians have spearheaded a three-day mass tree-planting drive across the sprawling archipelago in an effort to fight climate change and stop deforestation.

Drawing inspiration from Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, about 1,200 young people and community volunteers planted more than 2,500 trees nationwide on June 22-23 for Indonesia’s Heartland Project.

Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer of palm oil and environmentalists blame much of the country’s forest destruction on land clearance for oil-palm plantations.

“We are motivated by our love for nature,” Christnanda Gresdivitra, a 16 year old student from Palangka Raya told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday.

“In Central Kalimantan, a lot of forests already disappeared because of deforestation,” he said. “Young people have a responsibility to restore our forests again.”

Indonesia is home to the world’s third-largest expanse of tropical forests, but forest fires and haze blight many parts of the country each year.

After a particularly bad outbreak in 2015, 20 youths on the island of Borneo came together to create the Youth Act Campaign, an indigenous rights group that is behind the Heartland Project.

Initially, the group helped provide medical help and information about the haze to their communities, but it has expanded using social media and now has more than 3,000 members in Kalimantan and more than 10,000 nationwide.

“Trees gives fresh air and safeguard our village from floods,” said Apriani Angela Sofia, a 15 year old student from Sintang in West Kalimantan.

“I’m happy to be involved in this movement because I can be part of the solution, restoring our forests and protecting my community from nature disasters.”

Kalimantan, which is the Indonesian portion of Borneo island, has seen a rapid rate of development for coal mining and palm plantations over the last few years.

Young protesters are increasingly demanding action on climate change, among them 16-year-old Thunberg, who started a weekly vigil outside Sweden’s parliament last year.

The Heartland Project encouraged young Indonesians and their communities to plant trees in their local areas - be it a backyard, garden, forests, near rivers, and old mining sites.

Trees used were bought by volunteers or provided by government departments, said Emmanuela Shinta, 26, an indigenous rights advocate and organizer of the planting project.

She said she started the movement before she knew about Thunberg’s campaign, but hearing about it gave her a sense that “we are not fighting alone”.

“Youths have to work hand in hand - even if in different countries and with different languages - to be part of climate action and the solution,” said Shinta.

The tree planting project will now be held annually and target 10,000 volunteers and 10,000 trees planted next year.

Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org

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