Indonesia Sustainable Development News Digest

Starling Resource produces a bi-weekly Indonesia Sustainable Development News Digest email for circulation to a broader cohort of practitioners, funders, and experts. The purpose of the digest is to present readers with a brief, easily digestible summary of significant, recent news items, reports, and papers relevant to conservation, sustainable development, and the environment in Indonesia, compiled from domestic Indonesian and international media sources. The digest is produced once every two weeks throughout the year. If you are interested in receiving the digest, please let us know by email at or subscribe here

News Digest
2019 – 17: 21 August 2019

Marine & Fisheries

Pertamina says oil spill recovery will take until March 2020
—  Bernadette Christina Munthe and Gayatri Suroyo, Reuters, 8 August 2019
Clean-up efforts after an oil spill from a well in Indonesia’s Java Sea will take until at least March 2020, state energy firm Pertamina said. The spill started on 12 July when Pertamina was drilling at its YYA-1 well in the Offshore North West Java (ONWJ) block, about 2 km from the coastline of the Karawang district. The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) said leaking crude oil has affected 13 villages and waters north of the capital, Jakarta, threatening the livelihoods and health of thousands of people. “We apologize to the residents affected,” said Dharmawan Samsu, Pertamina’s upstream director. “We’ve been trying to quell the impact since the incident.” The company said its environmental and social recovery efforts are likely to continue until March 2020, including maintenance in affected areas, renovation of public facilities and environmental recovery. It also promised compensation for affected residents. “The ecosystem is broken, the sea has been polluted, and people are afraid the fish will be gone,” said Meiki Paendong, Wahli’s West Java director.

The oil spill in Indonesia will cost Pertamina
—  I Ketut Dharma Putra Yoga, The Diplomat, 17 August 2019
On 12 July 2019, an offshore well operated by the state-owned oil and gas company, Pertamina began to spill crude oil into Indonesian waters off of West Java, the second oil spill involving Pertamina in two years. In March 2018, there was an oil spill after a pipe broke when snagged by the anchor of the MV Ever Judger at Balikpapan Bay, East Kalimantan. That spill polluted approximately 7,000 ha of waters at Balikpapan and killed five people, in addition to destroying mangroves and marine life. The 2018 case saw the Ministry of Environment and Forestry file a court case against Pertamina, requesting a compensation of US$711 million (Rp 10.15 trillion). Given that the recent oil spill has caused damage to more than 1,000 fishermen, the compensation provided by Pertamina is also expected to be very large. Many people living around Karawang, West Java have lost their livelihoods as fishermen. It is also worth noting that there will be potential impacts to 15,000 ha of fish ponds on the Karawang coast, spread across 23 villages.

Sinking village offers grim lesson in the dangers of coastal erosion
—  Ainur Rohmah, South China Morning Post, 19 August 2019
Motorboats chug slowly down a canal running between mangrove forests in the village of Bedono, an ecotourism area on the north coast of the island of Java, Indonesia. From a grove of mangrove trees, ruins of abandoned and partially submerged houses can be seen. “The area that has now been overgrown with mangroves was once a residential area,” says tour guide Aryo Rifai. The erosion in Bedono is estimated by the country’s Maritime Coordinating Ministry to be the most severe on the northern coast of Java. The area affected spans more than 2,000 hectares, and has shifted the coastline 5 km inland. More than 500 families have been forced to evacuate to safer areas. Since Bedono sank, the government and villagers have been planting more mangroves and building coastal walls made from concrete and bamboo. In 2017, the new mangroves started attracting visitors. Bedono’s tourism is more about fulfilling people’s curiosity about the origin of the village’s sinking, and what can be learned about the phenomenon.

Forestry & Land Use

One size does not fit all
—  Sandra Cordon, CIFOR, 7 August 2019
Efforts to help oil palm smallholders comply with sustainability standards and “good agricultural practices” may fail  if they do not better account for smallholder diversity, according to a recent study, titled “Certification, good agricultural practices, and smallholder heterogeneity: Differentiated pathways for resolving compliance gaps in the Indonesian oil palm sector.”  The study found that only 2.4% of independent smallholders at research sites in Central and West Kalimantan have the capacity to comply with the requirements of the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) certification system. This gap poses a serious challenge to the task of reducing the impacts of oil palm on the environment. Independent smallholders often lack the ability to access technical and bureaucratic support, so many lack the capacity and resources to upgrade their oil palm operations. As a result, independent oil palm smallholders are relatively less productive, attaining less than 60% of their yield potential on average, according to the study, which was conducted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Indonesia’s new permanent forest moratorium: Opposing views (I)
—  Tabita Diela, World Economic Forum, 14 August 2019
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has issued a permanent moratorium on new forest clearance for activities such as palm plantations or logging. While welcomed by some green groups, other do not think it goes far enough to protect remaining forests in the tropical archipelagic nation. The moratorium, which covers around 66 million hectares (ha) of primary forest and peatlands was first introduced in 2011 and has been renewed regularly as part of efforts to reduce emissions from fires caused by deforestation.Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar said the presidential instruction mandated ministers, governors and other officials not to issue new permits within the moratorium area.Indonesia has had one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, with more than 74 million ha of rainforest—an area nearly twice the size of Japan—logged, burned or degraded in the last half century, according to Greenpeace. The moratorium decision comes after authorities declared new fire emergencies in six provinces where smoke from outbreaks of forest fires have caused acute respiratory infections.

Indonesia’s new permanent forest moratorium: Opposing views (II)
—  Hans Nicholas Jong, Mongabay, 14 August 2019
Indonesia’s president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging, a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere “propaganda.” Minister of the Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar said President Joko Widodo signed the permanent extension of the moratorium on August 5. The moratorium prohibiting the conversion of primary natural forests and peatlands for oil palm, pulpwood and logging concessions was introduced in 2011 by then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as part of wider efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation.However, some environmental activists claim that forest loss and fires have actually increased in areas under the moratorium. The activists have highlighted loopholes in the moratorium that allow developers to continue exploiting forest areas without consequence. There is skepticism about whether the new permanent moratorium on granting permits for oil palm cultivation, will really do much to slow the rate of deforestation.

What does the IPCC special report say about forests?
—  Frances Seymour and David Gibbs, World Resources Institute, 8 August 2019
The “Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems” by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just been released. One thing missing from the title is any reference to “forests” or “deforestation.” As in much of the report summary itself, forests are swept into the broader categories of land degradation and sustainable land management, thereby obscuring what has been one of the most important strategies for both climate mitigation and adaptation: protecting forests—especially tropical forests. The new report, however, makes it clear that forests are part of the climate system: forests affect the climate across scales and through multiple pathways; climate change impacts forests and can exacerbate forest degradation; and humans contribute to both through forest management and forest cover change. The main takeaway is that conserving tropical forests is even more important than we had previously thought, both for cooling the global climate as well as for providing local climate and other benefits.

Energy, Climate Change & Pollution

Why Indonesia needs climate finance for its energy transition
— Abidah B. Setyowati, East Asia Forum, 7 August 2019
A major power blackout affecting approximately 21 million people struck the greater Jakarta area on 4 August 2019, a stark reminder that Indonesia needs to seriously address reforms in the energy sector. The key struggle for Indonesia lies in balancing three key energy objectives: energy access, security and sustainability. The availability of cheap coal in Indonesia might make it the most affordable source of energy, but it does not make it the most secure or sustainable for electricity generation. Private finance will be crucial in achieving Indonesia’s longer-term goal to provide reliable and secure access to electric power.  However, three key barriers stand in the way toward increasing private investment in renewable energy. First, regulatory uncertainties and misaligned policies persist. Second, the dominant role of PLN in electricity generation, transmission and distribution has resulted in limited, if any, market space and a predictable crowding out effect. Third, there is limited access to finance for renewable energy projects.

Indonesia should put more energy into renewable power
— Kate Walton, The Interpreter, 19 August 2019
As an immense archipelago located along the equator, on top of a ring of active volcanoes, you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking Indonesia could become one of the world’s leaders in renewable energy. In fact, the country has the potential to generate 788,000 megawatts (MW) of power from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, tidal, and geothermal, more than 14 times the country’s current electricity consumption. Yet in 2018, of the approximately 60,000 MW of electricity used every year in Indonesia, only 12% came from renewable sources. The rest was sourced from coal (55%), gas (26%), and oil (7%), and it is these fossil fuels that are responsible for Jakarta’s air pollution woes (coal plants in Banten and West Java) as well as the 4 August blackout (caused by failures at gas plants in Cilegon). Why aren’t more renewable energy sources being harnessed? Part of the problem lies in regulation. Financing is another problem. A third issue lies in Indonesia’s massive coal reserves.

Cash for trash: Indonesia village banks on waste recycling
— Channel News Asia, 16 August 2019
Indonesia's crackdown on imported foreign waste has upset the village of Bangun, where residents say they earn more money sorting through garbage than growing rice in once-lush paddy fields. Overwhelmed by a spike in waste imports after China closed its doors to foreign garbage, Indonesia has tightened import rules and customs inspections, sending hundreds of tons of foreign waste back to their origin countries. Green groups praised the crackdown, but Bangun residents say restricting trash from countries like the United States, Canada and Australia will wipe out a key source of income. "If they're going to forbid us from this, there must be a solution. The government hasn't provided us jobs," said Heri Masud as he took a break from sifting through rubbish piled high around the village of 3,600 people. The front and back yards of homes in Bangun overflow with waste. While it may be more lucrative than growing rice, the piles of garbage are a threat to villagers' health, environmentalists say.

Roadmap on single-use plastics to be ready by year-end: Environment Ministry
— Riza Roidila Mufti, The Jakarta Post, 16 August 2019
The Ministry of the Environment and Forestry is drafting a roadmap for phasing out the use and production of environmentally unfriendly packaging such as plastic, aluminum cans and glass. The ministry’s Solid Waste, Hazardous Waste and Toxic Substance Management Director General Rosa Vivien Ratnawati said that the roadmap, which would, among other things, provide guidelines for the reduction of single-use plastics, aluminum cans, glass and paper, was to be completed by the end of this year. “In the roadmap, we will encourage them [industry players] to redesign their packaging systems to be more environmentally friendly by phasing out single-use plastics,” Ratnawati said. “We will also ask them to provide a dropbox as a place for take-back post-consumer products and packaging, so they can reuse or recycle them,” said Ratnawati. She added that the roadmap would allow a transition period of 10 years for three categories of businesses, namely brand owners and manufacturers.

Indonesia preparing development incentives for geothermal energy
— Alexander Richter, Think Geoenergy, 14 August 2019
The government is preparing new incentives to encourage development of the geothermal electric power sector. The costs of developing geothermal energy are high, causing development  to appear slow. F.X. Sutijastoto, Director General of New and Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation (EBTKE) of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources (ESDM) said geothermal had become a sector of concern for the Minister of Finance Sri Mulyani. “The government will try to prepare incentives to make geothermal costs more competitive,” he said, explaining that the incentives can be given in various forms, one of which is through the reimbursement system. Prijandaru Effendi, Chairman of the Indonesian Geothermal Association, said geothermal development was indeed hampered by economic prices that were not in accordance with the capabilities of PLN. But he said geothermal was a viable alternative to replace fossil energy.

Conservation & Protected Areas

LIPI documentary exposes lack of ecosystem protection on border islands
— Nur Yasmin, Jakarta Globe, 15 August 2019
The Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) has recommended that the government employ more measures to protect biodiversity in some of the archipelago's remotest islands, after launching an expedition to eight out of 111 remote Indonesian islands where they found unique and rare marine lives. The expedition team, which spent 60 days on the islands, also shot a documentary film titled "Nusa Manggala Expedition: The Tale of Indonesia's Eight Remotest Islands." The film illustrated the landscapes and biodiversity of these eight remote islands – Yiew, Budd, Fani, Brass and Fanildo, Liki, Bepondi, Meossu and Ayau –  as well as the current lack of protection for their ecosystems. "We had three goals for the expedition: look for potential natural resources, examine existing infrastructure on the islands, and map the socio-cultural system of the islands' inhabitants who live so far off the grid," LIPI head Laksana Tri Handoko said. LIPI plans to launch similar expeditions to other islands in the Indian Ocean and the Banda Sea, and a deep ocean expedition next year.

Sumatran tiger preservation should adopt cultural approach
— The Jakarta Post, 8 August 2019
Around 600 Sumatran tigers could be saved using a cultural approach, according to UNDP Sumatran Tiger Management Unit–Tiger Project spokesman Hizbullah Arief. Arief cited local folktales that show how our ancestors lived peacefully with wild animals, including Sumatran tigers. “Our ancestors had no choice but to adapt to the environment, resulting in the solution of living side-by-side with wild animals,” Arief said. He called on the community to see the connection between culture and the efforts to increase the population of Sumatran tigers, sharing examples of the tiger-man myth in Kerinci, Jambi, and the Sumatran tradition of summoning tiger spirits known as Nganggah Harimau. If these cultural traditions could be preserved, it could help to solve the issue of the Sumatran tiger’s dwindling population, Arief said. The Sumatran tiger is the only surviving tiger species in Indonesia. Sumatran Tiger Project national project manager Rudijanta Tjahja Nugraha said the endangered species currently lived in 23 forest areas, including conservation and non-conservation areas.

Here there be dragons, but can they survive on invasion of tourists?
— Hannah Beech, The New York Times, 12 August 2019
Komodo dragons resemble dinosaurs that missed their cue for extinction. Tourists come to Komodo National Park because of the dragons and also for the vibrant sea life that lets snorkelers and scuba divers share the water with turtles and rays. While Komodo tourism generates significant cash for one of Indonesia’s poorest regions, it has also brought piles of trash, human encroachment and occasional lizard smuggling. Some environmentalists worry that the stampede of visitors has set the ecosystem off kilter. Concerned about the onslaught of visitors in this far-flung part of Indonesia, provincial leaders want to close the island of Komodo, where the largest population of dragons lives in January 2020. The island would be off-limits for at least a year. But the final decision rests with the Indonesian national government, officials from the national Ministry of Environment and Forestry say.


Widodo formally submits proposal to relocate capital to Borneo
—  Robie de Guzman, UNTV, 16 August 2019
President Joko Widodo’s  plan to move the country’s capital from Jakarta to Kalimantan was formally submitted to Indonesia’s parliament on 16 August. Widodo made the proposal during his State of the Union speech, a day before the country celebrated its 74th independence anniversary. Widodo, who was elected to his second term last month, said the move would represent a leap forward in the country’s progress, stating that “a capital city is not just a symbol of national identity, but also a representation of the progress of the nation. This is for the realization of economic equality and justice. This is the vision of an advanced Indonesia.” Widodo visited three candidate cities in Kalimantan in May. The president did not specify the exact location for the new capital in his speech. The current capital, Jakarta, is home to more than 10 million people and suffers from severe traffic congestion that the government estimates costs US$7 billion in economic losses each year.

The next trade war? Indonesia threatens the EU
— Eko Listiyorini and Yoga Rusmana, Al Jazeera, 9 August 2019
While the world focuses on the ongoing trade war between China and the U.S., trade problems have been brewing between commodity giant Indonesia and the European Union. Indonesia, the top producer of palm oil, the world's most widely-used vegetable oil, is seeking to raise tariffs on dairy products imported from the EU by 8% to 18 in retaliation for the bloc's plan to impose anti-subsidy duties of the same rate on Indonesian palm biodiesel, according to Enggartiasto Lukita, Indonesia’s Minister of Trade. "The EU can impose something on us as long as the parameter is fair, but if the parameter is not fair, then that is an act of protectionism and trade war," Lukita told reporters. "We can't just be quiet when there is unfairness." The feud over palm oil between the two trading partners escalated earlier this year when the European Commission decided to place stricter limits on palm oil's use in biofuels over concerns over deforestation.

Widodo proposes $178 billion budget for 2020 with focus on education
— Maikel Jefriando and Tabita Diela, Reuters, 16 August 2019
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has put forward a US$177.56 billion (Rp 2,528.8 trillion) government budget for 2020. The proposal sets a target of 5.3% growth in gross domestic product (GDP), the same as this year, although officials have said actual 2019 growth would probably range from 5.1% to 5.2%. The proposed budget is 3% bigger than planned spending in 2019, but about 8% larger than the latest government estimate of what Jakarta will actually spend this year. The budget will fund the president’s programs in the first year of his second five-year term, which officially begins in October. “Juniman, Chief Economist of Maybank Indonesia, said Widodo’s GDP growth assumption, which is used as the basis of the government’s tax revenue target, is unattainable. “I’m pessimistic that a 5.3% growth rate can actually be achieved. Given the gloomy global condition and its slow trend this year and next, it will be hard for any emerging market to grow faster than this year,” Juniman said.

Demonstrations spread across West Papua
— Jessie Yeung and Masrur Jamaluddin, CNN, 19 August 2019
Thousands of protesters in the provincial capital of Indonesia's West Papua have set fire to a local government building amid widespread demonstrations sparked by alleged discrimination against Papuan students. The Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua have for decades been wracked by a long-simmering and occasionally violent separatist movement. On 19 August, crowds marched through Manokwari, the capital of West Papua, setting fire to the parliament building, cars, and tree tires. "This is unpredictable -- the masses are so angry," said Veronica Koman, a human rights lawyer in Indonesia, adding that the protests were "triggered by the racist attacks." The unrest first began on Indonesia’s Independence Day in Surabaya, where Papuan university students were accused of throwing the Indonesian flag into a ditch, leading to clashes with a crowd of angry local residents. Activists and Papuan students claim that police sent to quell the disturbance abused the students with racist terms, fueling the outrage that is driving Monday's protests in Papua and West Papua.


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