Basten Gokkon, Jakarta – Environmental policy experts are calling on the presidential hopefuls in Indonesia's election next year to lay out their strategies for moving the country away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner sources of energy.
Indonesia, the world's fourth-largest democracy, holds presidential and legislative elections in February 2024. Three prominent figures have already declared their candidacies for the main event, but none have spoken about any kind of an energy transition for a country that's the world's biggest exporter of coal.
Most likely voters younger than 44 say they experience the dire effects of climate change and expect the candidates to offer substantial plans to resolve them, according to a new survey published Sept. 5 by the Center of Economic and Law Studies (CELIOS) and the UniTrend research institute at Gadjah Mada University.
"Our hope is that this survey would be a fundamental source to attract votes," Bhima Yudhistira Adhinegara, the executive director of CELIOS, said at a press conference in Jakarta. "We can't let environmental issues become second or even last to matters of political coalition. Discussions about environmental issues during the 2024 election cycle will have impacts for the next generations."
The survey, conducted from March 31-April 15, asked 1,245 Indonesians older than 18 from urban and rural areas in all provinces for their views of the climate crisis and clean energy transition. The researchers also collected online news coverage from Nov. 1, 2022, and May 1, 2023, to identify trends and sentiments pertaining to environmental issues.
The survey found that most respondents (81%) saw a need for the government to declare a climate emergency in the country and for swift actions to reduce the impacts. Sixty percent said the government still lacked strategies to tackle the effects of climate change.
It also found that the majority of respondents would take into account the track record of candidates pertaining to environmental protection. These respondents said the candidates should prioritize reformative policies, such as the implementation of a carbon tax, clean and renewable energy sources, and a phaseout of coal-fired power plants.
"All contestants in the 2024 general elections, both presidential and legislative candidates, must have real commitment and programs for energy transition, prevention of deforestation and forest fires," said Media Wahyudi Askar, one of the survey leads and director of public policy at CELIOS.
Under its commitment to the Paris climate agreement, known as its nationally determined contribution (NDC), Indonesia plans to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 29% by 2030 from the business-as-usual projection. With international funding, or the "conditional" scenario, the target goes up to 41%. The Southeast Asian country, a top greenhouse gas emitter, is also targeting net-zero emissions by 2060 and has pledged to accelerate the retirement of its existing fleet of coal-fired power plants to develop renewable energy.
But energy observers have criticized the country's unwavering dependence on fossil fuels, mainly coal. Last year, Indonesia burned more coal than any other year, putting the country on track to become one of the largest carbon emitters from fossil fuels in the world.
Currently, three politicians have announced their candidacies for the Feb. 14 presidential vote: Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan. While the official campaign period is scheduled to run from Nov. 28 through Feb. 10, the hopefuls have already been stumping across the country and speaking on a range of issues – though not the energy transition.
"We have yet to hear any concrete solutions or at least intentions to have policies that are fresh and focused on environmental issues, particularly the energy transition issue, even though these are very populist issues because almost all of us consume and need energy," Rizki Ardinanta, a contributor to the survey and researcher at the Institute for Policy Development at Gadjah Mada University.
Bondan Andriyanu, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia, who was not involved in the survey, agreed that the candidates should fully commit to having a clear road map for reforming Indonesia's energy sector to be low-carbon and accessible to all Indonesians.
The current administration of President Joko Widodo, who is ineligible to run because of term limits, has been a key champion of coal, massively expanding the number of coal plants across the nation and rolling out various incentives and other favorable policies to miners and power plant developers.
One of these, a 2022 regulation issued by the president, stipulates a moratorium on new coal plants. But it makes a crucial exemption for new coal plants that are "integrated with industries that are built orientated to increase the added value of natural resources or are included in the national strategic projects that have a major contribution to job creation and/or national economic growth." Essentially, it allows new coal plants to be built specifically to feed energy-intensive industries such as metal processing – an industry the government is promoting heavily to foreign and domestic investors alike.
The regulation also allows companies to build new coal plants if they can commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 35% within 10 years of operation.
Greenpeace's Bondan said that while the regulation, on the face of it, offers a semblance of an energy transition, it carries "hidden stipulations."
"Maybe we could have the candidates sign a political contract to make good on their promises during the campaign," he added.
CELIOS researcher Media called on the next president to maintain and improve on current policies that support the energy transition, such as green infrastructure investment and the development of renewable energy infrastructure in villages and remote islands. He added the next president should also evaluate and revise regulations that pose threats to the environment and slow down clean energy development, such as the controversial 2020 Job Creation law and the 2022 power plant regulation.
"Every time a regime changes, it starts from zero," Media said. "The problem is more about leadership and alliance, and that requires leaders who truly understand the urgency and take steps toward an energy transition."