Indonesia’s Climate Commitments Ahead of the COP-26 Summit

Recent Features

ASEAN Beat | Economy | Southeast Asia

Indonesia’s Climate Commitments Ahead of the COP-26 Summit

The upcoming climate summit offers President Joko Widodo an opportunity to realize his vision of Indonesia as a “bridge builder” and global problem solver.

Indonesia’s Climate Commitments Ahead of the COP-26 Summit

A view of a wind farm in Sidenreng Rappang, Indonesia, on January 23, 2020.

Credit: Depositphotos

Next month, the COP26 Summit will be hosted in Glasgow by the governments of the United Kingdom and Italy. The Summit brings together almost every country to explore the best solutions to ensure timely action on climate change. Despite the challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, climate threats continue to carry serious environmental and socio-economic implications. The COP26 this year is anticipated to address the failure of last  COP25 meeting in Madrid in 2019, which ended with no ambition and little progress. Climate negotiations in Glasgow will present some challenges including competing interests between developing and developed countries, fragmented commitments to multilateral deals, the issue of climate financing, unsettled rules for international carbon markets which featured in the Article 6 of Paris Agreement.

The Glasgow meeting has also been criticized for its exclusivity, given the fact that many NGOs, particularly from developing countries, may be absent due to travel restrictions. Climate Action Network-International (CAN) warns that the lack of inclusive participation could result in less pressure and scrutiny on polluters to act in support of the expected outcomes. Nevertheless, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hoping for an ambitious result from the COP26 this year. In his recent speech to United Nations General Assembly in New York, Johnson insisted that COP26 must be a “turning point for humanity.”

The spirit to achieve global environmental goals is indeed acquiring the necessary political will from world leaders. In the same forum, China’s supreme leader Xi Jinping announced that his country was committing to cease building coal-fired power plants abroad. U.S. President Joe Biden also vowed that Washington would become the world’s leading provider of climate finance. Those pledges from China and the U.S. have definitely brought optimism ahead of COP26.

According to research conducted by Carbon Brief, China and the U.S. are the top two largest historical emitters of CO2, with Russia, Brazil, and Indonesia rounding out the top five. Given its position among the main contributors to global climate change, what is Indonesia’s likely stand on the global climate effort at the upcoming COP26 meeting?

COP26 President Alok Sharma once referred to Indonesia as a “climate superpower,” referring to the nation’s importance to the achievement of international climate goals. During the Leaders Summit on Climate in April 2021, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo emphasized Indonesia’s seriousness in wanting to control climate change, which he said was among the country’s core national interests. He encouraged world leaders to promote green development and increase climate resilience, as reflected through Indonesia’s upgraded Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). NDC consists of each country’s commitment to reduce national emissions and its efforts in mitigating climate change. By mid-2021, Indonesia had submitted its updated NDC and first long-term strategy to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The World Resources Institute has acknowledged Indonesia’s steps toward reaching net-zero emissions by 2060 or sooner.

Out of many challenges facing Indonesia, climate financing remains among the most pressing. Ahead of COP26, Indonesia’s Minister for Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar urged developed countries to take the lead in furnishing developing countries with the financial resources needed to execute climate programs. Similarly, Indonesia’s Finance Minister Sri Mulyani in a recent dialogue with Asia House said that Indonesia will need $5.7 billion every year to fund its green energy transition.

However, it is not only funding that could impede Indonesia’s path toward its climate goals. There are several other challenges that government needs to resolve. Before deciding to advance the net-zero emissions target to 2060, Indonesia was forced to resolve the lack of synchronization in the net-zero calculations employed by the Ministry of National Development Planning (Bappenas) and Ministry for Environment (KLHK). Previously, Bappenas calculated four different year scenarios (2045, 2050, 2060, and 2070), while KLHK set its targets at the latest year, 2070. After receiving some criticisms from domestic stakeholders, a new, unified target of 2060 was finally proposed. The problem now is to adjust the different step-by-step approaches and timelines in achieving the net-zero goals across several ministries.

While this particular issue was partly resolved, the incoherent coordination among ministries should be mitigated. Research by Verdinand Siahaan of Christian University of Indonesia suggests that often laws and regulations in Indonesia are not responsive to environmental problems, and in many cases even contradict the mission of environmental preservation. Apart from weak law enforcement, environmental laws frequently come second to trade and industry laws in implementation.

The trade-off between the economy and the environment is a classic problem. Despite the Indonesian government’s claim that there is no fundamental trade-off between economy and environment, many cases suggest otherwise. In November 2020, a tract of forest in Papua, the size of the city of Seoul, was cleared by illegal burning in order to expand the palm oil business, according to Greenpeace International. The problem of coordination between the central government and local leaders is another challenge that Indonesia needs to resolve in order to achieve its climate goals. The challenge lies not in drafting or signing agreements and decrees, but in the coordination and execution needed to implement them effectively.

The Global Electricity Review 2021 also suggests that Indonesia is the only one of the G20 countries that still overwhelmingly relies on coal-fired power plants. Fortunately, Indonesia has started to build its carbon markets to accelerate emissions reductions through mechanisms such as an Emission Trading Scheme (ETS), a carbon tax, and carbon offsetting. If the country was pragmatic, the development of carbon capture technology might actually be offering some benefits, reducing its reliance on fossil fuels, enhancing oil and gas production, reducing carbon emissions, and attracting foreign investments on renewable energy. American consulting firm Tetra Tech estimates that the total market for renewable energy in Indonesia to be $38.9 billion over the period from 2020 to 2025. There is clearly huge potential for foreign and domestic investors to jump into the nation’s renewable energy market. Jakarta must therefore build on its ambition to become the region’s leader on renewable energy, a goal that is entirely feasible.

The fact that the young generation has greater concerns about the environment could be one factor that pushes the government to take climate change more seriously. A 2020 survey by Indonesia Bright Foundation found that 97 percent of urban Indonesian millennials see climate change impacts are equally or more dangerous than the COVID-19 pandemic. Sixty-three percent of the respondents argued that government’s performance was the major hurdle to climate efforts. Indonesia’s leading foreign policy group, the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia, also recently made a strong call for the government to secure the nation at golden centennial (2045) from the threat of climate crisis. The awareness of climate change in Indonesia is growing, and could support a more robust government effort.

Indonesia’s international commitment must not simply consist of nice promises. Governance and bureaucratic reforms designed to support Indonesia’s climate efforts should be made a priority. When potential funders recognize Indonesia’s seriousness to fight climate change, financial support will follow suit. Considering Jokowi’s pledge to be a “bridge builder” and global problem solver, Indonesia’s contribution to COP26 carries a high degree of promise.