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Saving the 'Coral Triangle'

A new accord brings new hope for the world's largest coral habitat.

It is the second time in as many years that Indonesia has held a major international conference to address environmental issues such as conservation and climate change. To everyone’s surprise, Indonesia offered to host the United Nations Conference on Climate Change last year. While Indonesia still lags far behind other countries when it comes to protection of the environment, its leaders' willingness to engage and encourage dialogue seems to indicate a shift in attitude. Indonesia has taken a number of steps in recent years to improve its environmental record.

“There has been a great deal of initiative on the part of Indonesia,” Atkinson said. “I have been extremely impressed with what has been accomplished so far and a lot of credit has to be given to Indonesia, as well as the countries who have signed on and pledged resources of their own.”

For Indonesia, the Coral Triangle Initiative could be its most ambitious environmental effort yet.

“In 30 years of conservation work, I have never seen anything like this: six leaders signing a commitment to protect their marine resources for the well-being of their citizens and future generations," said Conservation International’s Chairman Peter Seligmann. "We extend our deepest congratulations as they embark on this unprecedented global initiative to secure human livelihoods and adapt to climate change through the conservation of their individual and shared marine heritage."

Still, the signing of the agreement is only the first step. As the world learned after the signing of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, action is the hard part. Despite being more than a decade old, the Kyoto Protocol has not yet led to reduced worldwide emissions.

But the Coral Triangle Initiative has received unprecedented support — including $40 million from the United States alone — and has struck a balance between development and conservation that analysts said might just be the key to making it work.

“People here have always been aware of the value of their resources and the need to protect them, but the development imperative has made it difficult. But the Coral Triangle Initiative is a really good model and I think we really can achieve a great deal,” Atkinson said.

For more on threats to the environment:

US considers 'greening' the tax code

Who will be able to afford to live on the coast?

A climate change collision course