Climate commitments in Indonesia: the dilemma between economic growth and the environment

In the build-up to COP26, we hear from Leeds alumni around the globe who are helping to combat the climate crisis.

In this guest blog post, Adila Alibasya (MSc Climate Change and Environmental Policy 2016), Climate and Energy Researcher, Greenpeace Indonesia, considers the balance between economic growth and the environment in Indonesia, why current climate commitments aren’t enough, and what needs to happen to ensure a safer future.

Adila Alibasya (MSc Climate Change and Environmental Policy 2016)

In 2016, just one year after the Paris Agreement, many countries, including Indonesia, submitted the first Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), stating the country’s commitment to stop climate change. As one of the biggest global emitters, Indonesia committed to reducing 29 percent of carbon emissions from the business as usual scenario by 2030. A bold commitment, according to our Government, but according to the Climate Action Tracker (an independent scientific analysis), far from enough to stop a four degree temperature rise by 2100.

Five years later, in July 2021, Indonesia submitted its revised NDC. A series of youth strikes and calls from climate scientists led to increasing demand for a stronger climate commitment, and there was hope that our Government would revise its NDC to a more ambitious one. But it didn’t happen. The Government stuck to the commitment set five years ago.

Climate Strike in Jakarta, 2019. Credit: © Tria Hardiyanti / Greenpeace
Climate Strike in Jakarta, 2019. Credit: © Tria Hardiyanti / Greenpeace

With COP26 on the horizon, there is an opportunity for the Indonesian Government to show its commitment through a more ambitious NDC. However, the Government argues that Indonesia is a developing country whose priority is to eradicate poverty. In other words, Indonesia has to sacrifice climate for the sake of economic development and the poor.

The question is, is this the right policy for now and Indonesia’s future?

Climate disasters hit Indonesia hard

The recently-launched Physical Science Basis report by IPCC highlighted the likely increased regularity of extreme events in the future if there were just 1.5 degrees Celsius warming.

Already, countless catastrophes in Indonesia brought about by the climate change have caused significant loss to not just the environment, but also to people and their livelihoods in the last five years. For example, severe forest fires due to dry season in 2015 resulted in a total loss of $15.5 billion according to the World Bank. High rainfall led to floods in many regions, including Jakarta and South Kalimantan.

Forest fires in Central Kalimantan, 2019. Credit: © Jurnasyanto Sukarno / Greenpeace

The increased heat and humidity has hit outdoor economic activities, such as agriculture. Sea-level rises threaten archipelago countries like Indonesia which is made up of more than 16,000 islands and 54,720 km of coastal lines. The sea-level rise, combined with heavy rainfall, resulted in severe floods in rice fields along the North Coast of Java to cause crop failure.

Farmers harvesting their flooded paddy rice in Pati, 2019. Credit: © Greenpeace

Such flooding devastates the livelihoods of millions of fishermen and industries such as tourism, where people rely on coastal areas for their families’ livelihoods. Hence, climate change will hit the poor the hardest — there are 33 million farmers and fishermen in Indonesia. Most of them are very vulnerable to economic change.

What I believe needs to happen

Denying the realities of climate change will have severe social and economic impact for Indonesia. Instead of advancing public welfare, the Government’s approach will bring misery to the current and future generations.

Thousands of climate disasters have happened in Indonesia and caused billions of dollars of economic loss, money that could be used for mitigation and adaptation measures instead. The Ministry of National Development Planning has developed modelling to show that a 43 percent of carbon emission reduction in Indonesia will increase the GDP growth by six percent and create 15 million green jobs in the future. For me, the right path is therefore clear.

Climate change is upon us now, but it is not too late. The Indonesian Government needs to be bold enough to tackle it and make a political choice.

Laser action in front of Celukan Bawang coal-fired power plant, 2018. Credit: © Jeri Kusuma / Greenpeace

An ambitious emission reduction plan is needed. An acceleration of the energy transition is essential, as the energy sector is our biggest emission contributor due to our dependency on coal. The pandemic also provides an opportunity to create a greener economic system. President Jokowi needs to lead the transformation by working towards the transition.

Such actions can unambiguously create a better future: a safe climate, better air quality, cheap energy, and better livelihoods for all. On the contrary, I believe that sticking to a weak climate commitment will impoverish Indonesia.

Further information

Discover more from Leeds alumni helping to combat the climate crisis in our podcast, blog and features series here.

Find out more about the University of Leeds at COP26.

This blog is part of the Leeds Alumni Voices series. The opinions expressed in these publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the University of Leeds or its members. The designations employed in this publication and the presentation of material therein do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the University of Leeds.



The University of Leeds was founded in 1904, and its origins go back to the nineteenth century with the founding of the Leeds School of Medicine in 1831.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store