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Indonesian President Joko Widodo and top officials found guilty of climate negligence

A case brought forward by 32 citizens found the Government of Indonesia failing to act on chronic air pollution

by: Theodore Williamson

Two years ago, thirty-two residents of Jakarta filed a civil lawsuit against their government (which included the president, several ministers, and local leaders). They demanded action from the authorities to tackle the worsening air pollution in the capital Jakarta. The trial outcome saw the court rule that the Indonesian Government had failed to comply with the law and fulfil citizens’ rights to clean air.

Photo courtesy of Sopan Sopian via Pixabay

Complainants argued – backed up by scientific research – that the government’s negligence regarding reducing carbon pollution often causes an increase in asthma as well as respiratory and heart diseases. With that, the life expectancy of Jakarta’s population (exceeding 30 million people, including its surroundings) is potentially reduced.

According to IQAir's World Air Quality 2020 report, Jakarta and its surroundings have one of the worst levels of air pollution in Southeast Asia.

Additionally, the “Particular Matter 2.5” (PM2.5) metric averaged 49.4 µg/m³ in the capital of Indonesia in the year 2019 – at the time when residents decided to take this issue further to court. PM2.5 is an indicator of microscopic particles with less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter in the air. These are – according to WHO – mainly consistent of “sulfate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust, and water” and able to “penetrate the lung barrier and enter the blood system.” Jakarta’s 2019 reading put the metropolis into the ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ category, with an agglomeration town even having the more dangerous “unhealthy” classification.

There are multiple reasons for this dramatic and dangerous increase in air pollution in Jakarta, including the metropolis’ rapid urbanisation and the power plants nearby that are coal-powered, which help fuel the economy of the capitals’ citizens.

To remedy the damage and to bring air pollution under control, the Government was ordered to create – alongside other strategies – a national ambient air quality standard. By adopting this plan, the authorities would protect human well-being more than before.

With COP26 just weeks away, it begs the question: have the world's richest countries ignored those who rely on their help to reach their own climate target?

Photo courtesy of Eko Herwantoro via Unsplash

The Indonesian Government has neglected its people, but it could be argued that it is not entirely its fault. In the aftermath of the pandemic and the start of a new tax year, the UK Government announced the slashing of its aid budget by 0.5 per cent, which amounts to 4 billion pounds – money that would have gone to countries like Indonesia and helped them move away from coal power or find greener ways to meet the needs of their growing population.

However, in a year defined by the coronavirus and the race to vaccinate, there has been a sense of prioritisation in the world’s countries amongst different projects and initiatives. Indonesia, such as many other countries, prioritised the fight against the pandemic. Yes, the Government failed its citizens, but with less external help concerning air pollution arriving, the odds were to some extent against it.


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