Climate change litigation in Indonesia

Climate change litigation in Indonesia

Following the success of the Urgenda case in the Netherlands and other cases around the world, citizens from Jakarta also turned to climate change litigation in their fight for a cleaner environment.

In a surprising turn of events, the Central District Court in Jakarta ruled on 17 September 2021 that top government officials had failed to protect Jakarta’s residents from hazardous air pollution. This outcome was surprising as Indonesian courts do not have a good track record when it comes to environmental matters. Therefore, this case was expected to fail as it had been postponed numerous times, which led people to believe the Court was avoiding making a decision. Its success is an important step forward – not only in the fight for a better climate in Indonesia, but also for the role of courts in the protection of the environment. It shows that climate change litigation is not just an effective tool in Western countries, but for all countries across the world.

Environmental issues in the Greater Jakarta area

Indonesia struggles with a wide range of environmental issues such as littering, deforestation, pollution of rivers and the air, and overfishing and loss of corals. Many of these issues congregate in the Greater Jakarta area, which is home to around 31 million individuals. Jakarta has long outgrown its infrastructure and currently traffic jams are the norm, with the average citizen of Jakarta spending multiple hours in traffic each day. With over 10 million vehicles in the city, traffic congestion is one of the largest contributors to air pollution in the city, along with seven coal power plants located within a 100km radius of Jakarta. Particularly the older buses and bajaj’s emit high levels of CO2. Many in Jakarta advocate for better environmental standards and better regulations and enforcement as the poor air quality has a significant impact on the health of the people living there. While the government has taken numerous environmental measures, these have largely been ineffective due to corruption, lack of capacity and lack of expertise. This case against the government was filed as a last resort, as previously very few other cases had succeeded.

Decision of the court

In the case, the plaintiffs did not request damages but simply demanded better regulatory laws and enforcement of those laws. They based their case on Article 28H of the Indonesian Constitution, which states that every person has the right to ‘a good and healthy environment’, as well as on Law no. 32/2009 on Environmental Protection and Management, which is a thorough law on environmental protection. The court ruled that national air quality standards need to be established and that the government needs to devise strategies to control air pollution. Additionally, the court ruled that the government needs to conduct an analysis of cross-border emissions and needs to test older vehicles for pollution. The court assigned each of these tasks to specific ministers, the President, and the Governor of Jakarta.

This case is significant because when it comes to environmental matters, the courts in Indonesia do not tend to rule in favour of the claimants. In 70% of the public interest litigation cases, the claimants lost. The response by the government to this decision is divided. Anies Baswedan, the Governor of Jakarta, stated that the provincial government would not appeal the decision of the court, yet an appeal was filed on 29 September by the President, the Environmental Ministry, the Home Ministry, and the Health Ministry.

Policy changes since the ruling of the court

Since the court’s ruling, the government of Jakarta has implemented a few policy changes. The government, for example, has introduced a regulation banning advertisements for cigarettes and reimposed the even-odd number plate policy which restricts the number of vehicles allowed to use the roads in the city. This policy was lifted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, there are many who believe that the government is still not doing enough to improve the air quality. Despite the pending appeal, this case is still an important milestone for environmental protection in Indonesia as it shows that the legal system can be used as yet another method to enforce protection of the environment. Globally, there are many other countries where climate change litigation is used to fight for a better environment, including countries like India and Pakistan. This case further demonstrates that climate change litigation can also be an effective tool in non-Western countries. However, the question remains whether the judgment is going to be properly implemented and if more judgments in favour of the environment will follow.

This blog was written as part of the Sustainability & Law lecture series (Duurzaamheid & Recht collegeserie).


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