Our Learning Curve to Survive Is Steep
Linda Yanti Sulistiawati
While the world seems unable to reach a binding multilateral agreement on fighting climate change, emerging evidence from Indonesia suggests the country faces a mammoth task in adapting to its impacts.
The Environment Ministry has cited various studies showing that social organization is closely related to climate patterns, meaning that climate change will also cause social, population and cultural change.
All of this means that we ignore issues of climate justice at our peril. Security of water, food, and health is decreasing in the most unfortunate places of the world, in particular the places that have had lesser roles in the polluting activities that are causing climate change.
The stakes for Indonesia are high. As the world’s largest archipelagic state, comprising of more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia will be among the hardest hit by climate change. The nation’s forested land supports extremely high levels of biodiversity, which in turn supports a diverse array of livelihoods and ecosystem services. The combination of high population density and high levels of biodiversity together with a staggering 80,000 kilometers of coastline make Indonesia one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change.
Despite recognition of the importance of forests to the country, however, deforestation and land-use change is estimated by the World Wide Fund for Nature to be as high as two million hectares per year, accounting for 85 percent of Indonesia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.
The impacts of climate change in Indonesia may vary depending on the region. In Java and Bali, the pattern of change appears similar to changes that have occurred in the past. The two islands are likely to see shorter but heavier rainy seasons, and longer and drier dry seasons.
Although climate change is a well studied issue, climate justice is still somewhat foreign to Indonesians. The most problematic climate justice-related issues in Indonesia are food and water problems and issues related to vector-borne disease.
Many of the extreme climate events that have occurred in Indonesia over recent years, particularly droughts, were associated with the periodical climate patterns linked to the El Nino and La Nina phenomena. The changes in rainfall patterns that occurred have had significant impacts on water storage in reservoirs. During dry seasons, particularly from June to September, reservoirs saw significant drops in water volume. Many of these dams have functions for electricity generation and for providing irrigation water and drinking water.
Jakarta gets its drinking water from the Citarum Dam, which during under extremely dry years can see water levels drop to less than 75 meters. At this level the pump cannot operate and water supply to the processing plant dries up. Conversely, during extremely wet years, floods have damaged the processing plant and contaminated the water. Floods in February 2007 caused some $2.2 million worth of damage to the plant.
Extreme weather can also contribute to the outbreak of illness such as diarrhea, malaria, dengue fever and other vector borne diseases. In Indonesia, dengue fever cases have been shown to increase significantly in La Nina years when unseasonably heavy rainfall has aided disease transmission.
Dengue fever data collected from 1992 to 2005 shows that in many large cities across the country, especially in Java, the incidence rate of dengue increased consistently from year to year, peaking in La Nina years.
While much of this data relates to El Nino and La Nina climate phenomena, it provides a sober warning about the impacts of climate change.
Indonesia is battling to come to terms with a changing climate and the impacts on its people. In all parts of the country, problems of water and food availability, deforestation and issues of equity and justice are apparent. Degradation of irrigation systems has caused damage to water-based rice fields, the heart and soul of Indonesia. Industrial pollution is also endangering the environment. Nevertheless, deforestation still causes the greatest destruction, and has earned Indonesia the dubious honor of the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
Although Indonesia is facing numerous environmental challenges, opportunities have also arisen. There are emerging efforts from local communities, nongovernmental organizations and international donors to support the struggle for climate justice in the country.
Despite suffering from a complicated and fragmented regulatory environment, as well as poor implementation and enforcement of existing climate change-related regulations, the government has tried to at least engage with the international community with regards to climate change agreements and climate justice efforts.
It has also formed national institutions to deal with climate change impacts and their management, namely the National Council on Climate Change and the National Task Force for Climate Change.
As the climate clock is ticking and the world is watching, we, as Indonesians, are trying hard to cope with climate justice issues.
Linda Yanti Sulistiawati is a doctoral student at the University of Washington School of Law and a lecturer at Gajah Mada University School of Law.