Linda Yanti Sulistiawati Visiting fellow, Asia-Pacific Center for Environmental Law, National University of Singapore; director, Center for Asia-Pacific Studies and associate professor of law, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta.
Under its commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Indonesia is required to submit its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which detail the country’s plan to reduce emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
In 2016, Indonesia outlined its first NDCs, which laid down very ambitious goals, with a voluntarily pledge to reduce emissions by 29 percent independently, or an emissions cut of up to 41 percent with international assistance.
Among the steps taken was the 2017 “National strategy on NDC implementation”, which prescribes nine strategies and indicators on how the implementation of NDCs will be achieved.
Only some of the larger cities and regencies have enacted climate change regulations, such as Bandung in West Java, Jakarta, and Surabaya in East Java. Climate provisions are enshrined in various laws such as regulations for the protection and empowerment of farmers, environmental management and protection, as well as through regulations on disaster management.
Most local government institutions remain unclear on how best to tackle climate change issues, let alone on how to implement NDCs at the local level.
Compounding these factors, Indonesia’s forest fires have hit hard again in 2019. Based on data from the Environment and Forestry Ministry, there were 1,700 fire hot spots this year as of August, higher by 39 hot spots compared to last year.
As almost half of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions derive from land use and land use change related emissions, it is unlikely that we would achieve the annual NDC targets. One of the largest hot spot areas is Kalimantan, where at least 95 forest fires were spotted in August alone, with an alarming level of air pollution blanketing neighboring Sarawak in Malaysia.
On top of the current increased rate of emissions for 2019, on Aug. 16, President, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, presented his state of the union address to the House of Representatives, asking for their blessing in an ambitious plan to move the capital from Jakarta in Java to a new site in Kalimantan. What does this mean for Indonesia’s NDC implementation? There are a few things we can be optimistic about.
First, Kalimantan hosts a large forest area, designated as the lungs of the world. Kalimantan hosts over 32 percent of Indonesia’s peatland according to government data.
Instead of removing the forest cover, one possibility would be to build the capital in and around the forest
as a truly green capital.
Yet these forests are disappearing, due to rapid forest conversion for industrial farmland, with over 6 million hectares converted from 2000 to 2017, according to the Center for International Forestry Research. Deterioration of Kalimantan’s forest areas at this rate precedes any additional pressures generated by the increased urban demands of a new capital city in the region.
How can we ensure that development of the new capital does not harm Kalimantan’s remaining forest cover?
Jokowi has asserted that the new capital will be “green”, and the government will seek to avoid the mistakes of the highly polluted Jakarta. Regardless of where in Kalimantan the new capital is located, chances are high that the area will have forest cover.
Instead of removing the forest cover, one possibility would be to build the capital in and around the forest as a truly green capital. Lessons can be learned from the “green cities” of Singapore, Nanning in Guanxi, China, Seattle in the United States, to name a few.
Not only do these cities maintain greenery within the city vicinity, they also house green infrastructure, urban housing, transportation, building, services and waste management systems based on environmentally conscious choices. Moving the capital to Kalimantan presents a new opportunity for Indonesia to reach its NDC targets.
Second, support from the judiciary is needed. Last year the Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed by the President against a ruling that the government and its provincial counterpart failed to do enough to prevent the devastating forest fires in West and Central Kalimantan and many other provinces during 2015.
The district court verdict, upheld by the Supreme Court, ordered the government to enact eight regulations to deter further forest fires.
The verdict included demands for the government to set up a collaborative committee to evaluate and revise forest permits based on environmental considerations for Central Kalimantan.
This included law enforcement against companies whose concession forest areas had undergone forest fires, the development of a road map for prevention, early detection, management, rescue and recuperation of forest fire victims, and environmental rehabilitation.
Climate change, forest fires and environmental rehabilitation through litigation has become a global phenomenon. Countries such as China and India have been using litigation to force environmental improvement in their countries. The government of China sued local governments to force them to combat the impacts of climate change and adhere to China’s NDCs. In India, various individuals have sued the government or companies to act on climate change including 9-year-old Ridhima Pandey, a resident of the frequently flooded northern Indian state of Uttarakhand.
Third, the Environment and Forestry Ministry has predicted that in 2026 to 2027, half of Indonesia’s carbon emissions will come from the energy sector. Unfortunately, policies that favor environmentally friendly products are almost nonexistent. Electric cars in Indonesia still cost twice the original price of that in their countries of manufacture, due to high taxes and tariffs imposed on electric cars.
Similar pricing mechanisms are in place for household solar panels, alternative fuels, deterring the middle class — Indonesia’s majority consumers — from much needed uptake of green technologies.
Whether the capital will be moved to Kalimantan or not, Indonesia needs better climate-supportive policies to drive NDC implementation.
Indonesia needs to pay close attention to land use and its unintended effects (including forest fires) and the energy sector to achieve its NDC targets. Moving the capital to Kalimantan should reflect a determination to foster NDC achievement, rather than a hindrance.