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Indonesians call for climate action but everyone must pull their weight

Fulcrum - January 3, 2023

Aninda Dewayanti, Maria Monica Wihardja – There is high awareness among Indonesians about the urgency of climate change and the adoption of environmentally friendly habits but until everyone pulls their weight, including the government curbing large polluters and fixing distortionary incentives, the tide against climate change will not build enough momentum.

Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation-state, is the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG), contributing around 4 per cent of total global emissions in 2019. It was also the second-fastest growing CO2 emitter after India in the last decade. Indonesia is situated in a region that is one of the hardest hit by climate change. It is Indonesia's responsibility and burden to step up its environmental policies to save itself and the planet.

Notwithstanding its leadership in promoting efforts to ameliorate climate change at the G20 Summit throughout 2022, achieving the net zero target for Indonesia by 2050 remains a daunting task. All stakeholders – from national to local governments and from civil society groups to the private sector – must pull their weight, for Indonesia to come close.

To do this, Indonesians need to tahu, mau, mampu ("be aware, be willing, and be able"), a common motivational phrase used locally to drive collective behavioural change. Only responsible actions by corporations and governments, with a whole-of-society shift towards tahu, mau, mampu, including individual behavioural change on recycling and other actions, will Indonesia move the needle on its carbon emissions.

There is some good news: a nationwide poll, the Indonesia National Survey Project 2022 (INSP2022), conducted from 21 to 28 July 2022 and commissioned by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, shows that 81 per cent of 1,620 respondents agree that climate and environmental crises needed to be urgently addressed.

This finding, with Indonesian urbanites scoring slightly higher, aligns with those from an ASEAN-wide online climate survey in July 2022 by the Climate Change in Southeast Asia Programme (CCSEAP) at ISEAS. In that broader survey, 95 per cent of Indonesian respondents (comprising 11 per cent of 1,369 respondents across ASEAN) perceived climate change as a serious and immediate threat to their country's well-being. Indonesians are slightly more conscious of climate threats compared to their ASEAN neighbours.

This high awareness may reflect how climate change's impact on Indonesians is more palpable. The INSP2022 shows a high share of people who have either experienced first-hand or know of someone experiencing more frequent wide-ranging climate-related events and environmental degradation. These include extreme weather (71 per cent of respondents); crop failures (63 per cent); floods (63 per cent); air, water, and soil pollution (56 per cent); difficulties in hunting or fishing (40 per cent); and beach erosions (33 per cent). The last threat is a clear sign of rising sea levels, to which Indonesia, the world's largest archipelagic state, is unusually vulnerable.

The INSP2022's findings show that eco-friendly individual actions and lifestyles are still the exception for most Indonesians. However, a significant number expressed willingness to adopt eco-friendly behaviours. For instance, around one-fifth of respondents had never purchased energy-efficient technologies (such as LED lightbulbs) or consciously avoided using single-use plastics or used reusable shopping bags but intended to adopt these behaviours (see Figure 1). Close to one-quarter of respondents had never sorted their trash for recycling but intended to do it in the future.

However, there is room to not only empower more willing individuals to act but also to nudge unwilling individuals towards change. For instance, 16 per cent of respondents had never restricted their diets (to eat less or no meat) because of environmental reasons but intended to do so in future. This compares to 37 per cent who had never restricted their diets and did not intend to do so. The public policy sweet spot would be for Indonesia to focus on real change in those willing to adopt more eco-friendly behaviours while using policy nudges to make the unwilling ones change their minds.

Do current conditions in Indonesia allow or empower willing individuals to adopt more eco-friendly behaviours? The authors argue that the government and corporations must make these conditions affordable, accessible, and suitable for the average Indonesian to change their behaviour.

One successful example is the case of LED lightbulb adoption. According to the INSP2022, 32 per cent of respondents often or sometimes purchased such energy-efficient technologies, while another 20 per cent rarely did so. An earlier study in 2015 in a neighbourhood in Bogor showed that a national programme to label energy-efficient appliances, in particular LED lightbulbs, combined with locally appropriate and personalised campaigns, proved successful in influencing people to purchase more LED lighting. That study showed that engagement of unaware individuals in environmentally related activities could change their willingness to buy LED lightbulbs. In this case, while the local government creates and regulates the market, businesses and industries provide affordable energy-efficient technologies to the market.

Applying the same logic to other low-carbon technologies for the Indonesian market, such as solar panel installations, may create a sustainable supply chain in time. This could enable more eco-friendly behaviour in the larger Indonesian population that simultaneously fosters the country's energy transition.

More generally, efforts to address climate challenges often run into the problem of free riding by either corporations or consumers. If evading or avoiding climate-positive action is costless, companies and individuals will not be likely to initiate big moves on this front. That is why public policy is key.

Interestingly, 61 per cent of respondents in the INSP2022 chose Indonesia's central government as being among "the three most responsible parties" for tackling climate change. (Respondents could indicate up to three choices from a list of seven.) Over a third perceived this responsibility to be that of local governments, individuals, and the private sector.

The growing popularity of green policies among Indonesians could reap political dividends. Seventy per cent of INSP2022 respondents supported current government policies on transitioning to cleaner energy sources, using electric vehicles (57 per cent), and reducing the consumption of fossil fuels (53 per cent) (see details in Figure 2). Similarly, 80 per cent of respondents supported taxing the private sector to help address environmental issues and taxing single-use plastics (56 per cent). The latter policy, which will see a 200 rupiah tax on a plastic bag, is yet to be passed as a national regulation.

There is no easy road to fixing climate issues or addressing Indonesia's unique climate vulnerabilities. Individual Indonesians' adoption of eco-friendly lifestyle habits mostly depends on what incentives or costs are placed in their way. Hence, the government should avoid distortionary policies including heavily subsidising coal power plants and fossil fuel prices.

Besides setting up more equitable sustainability policies and incentives, Indonesian policymakers could regulate and facilitate emissions reductions in businesses and industries, particularly in manufacturing and construction.

Finally, Indonesia needs to invest an estimated US$150 billion annually between 2021 and 2030 to meet the country's 2050 net zero emissions target. This amount dwarfs the US$20 billion "Just Energy Transition Partnership" commitment by a group of advanced economies led by the U.S. and Japan to finance energy transitions in emerging and low-income economies. Simultaneously, Indonesia's private sector could drive innovations of cheaper, more accessible, and more locally appropriate technologies, like what China has done in the solar panel and electric mobility industries.

Like in an orchestra, the coordination of climate actions must come from the diverse contribution of each player and the conductor's leadership. Indonesia, fresh from its G20 presidency and taking over as ASEAN Chair, should seize this chance to be an effective conductor for the sake of its people's and region's greener future.

[Aninda Dewayanti is a Research Officer in the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. Maria Monica Wihardja is an Economist and Visiting Fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme and the Regional Economic Studies Programme, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.]

Source: https://fulcrum.sg/indonesians-call-for-climate-action-but-everyone-must-pull-their-weight