Indonesians’ responses to the Southeast Asia Climate Change Outlook Survey 2022 show mixed feelings about Jakarta’s ability to push for real green transformation, but a chance exists for change to take root.
Green transformation is at the top of Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s (Jokowi) agenda. However, Indonesians seem apprehensive about the government’s capacity to achieve its goals on the climate agenda.
The Southeast Asia Climate Change Outlook Survey 2022 captures Indonesian respondents’ vision of their country’s potential as a climate leader in ASEAN, yet highlights their apprehension about stumbling blocks in the government’s climate policies and implementations.
Indonesian respondents, comprising 11 per cent of the 1,386 individuals surveyed this year, are confident that Indonesia has the potential to be the region’s climate leader, although most other ASEAN respondents ranked Singapore as having the highest potential.
These conflicting results perhaps reflect the conundrum that Indonesia is the most prolific carbon emitter in ASEAN, ranking fifth-highest in the world, mainly due to land conversion in the forestry sector. (When forests and peatlands are converted for other land uses, they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and there is also serious deforestation.) Hence, respondents – especially Indonesians – may feel that Indonesia bears a corresponding responsibility to lead the region’s climate transformation.
This response might also indicate positive gains from the Indonesian government’s public diplomacy efforts – including massive G20 advertisements and frequent speeches by President Jokowi – about the country’s climate action strategy on domestic and international platforms.
At COP26 last year, Jokowi declared that Indonesia had created a roadmap for net-zero emissions targets in all sectors by 2060. This year, Indonesia’s G20 presidency has put energy transition on its high agenda, alongside strengthening its public health system and digital transformation, all of which are issues tackled in hundreds of meetings by multi-level G20 working groups. Jokowi has been optimistic about his plan to build a new ‘green’ capital, Nusantara, in East Kalimantan and to establish a green industrial park called Tanah Kuning in North Kalimantan, which will cost over US$35 billion and US$132 billion to construct, respectively.
Yet Indonesian respondents remain insecure about Jakarta’s capacity to tackle domestic climate challenges. Over 71 per cent of responses in both survey years (2021 and 2022) illustrate their perception that the government lacks the resources and fails to pay attention to key climate issues, as Figure 2 illustrates:
The problem lies in a shortfall in climate governance, rather than the lack of financial resources. Since 2016, an average of 4.1% or about Rp96 trillion (US$64 billion) per year has been allocated for “climate budget tagging” (mainly aimed at reducing emissions). However, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and local governments have failed to meet budget absorption targets. Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati has reminded these ministries that they have not crossed “the finish line”; the authorities have basically failed to use up the funds allocated for climate mitigation and adaptation in the past five years.
Another problem is public scepticism of the goal to achieve net zero by 2060. While ASEAN respondents are generally worried about insufficient financial resources for decarbonisation strategies, Indonesians (50.3 per cent of Indonesian respondents) are more concerned with a lack of public support and viable schemes for such efforts.
For instance, the price for electric vehicles (EVs) in Indonesia is out of reach for ordinary consumers because it can be as high as US$40,500 per unit, about the price of three conventional cars. Other than pushing for personal usage of EVs, which will resonate only with those who can afford such cars, the government should consider designing EV-powered public transportation systems or other schemes, tapping into its early success in Jakarta.
Unlike those in Singapore and Myanmar, Indonesian respondents think that Indonesia will not have many problems finding alternative energy resources. These respondents might have known that Indonesia has a geographical bonus of abundant renewable energy sources. One study has projected that the country has infinitely renewable energy potential beyond 443 GW – equivalent to 390 million households powered by solar PV – annually. The question is whether the government can effectively tap into this potential.
In both the 2021 and 2022 surveys, Indonesian respondents counted on three main actions to reduce carbon emissions: encouraging businesses to adopt green practices, allocating more public financial support to low-carbon solutions, and enacting national climate laws.
The first action depends on the business community: respondents expected the private sector to adopt green supply chain practices and invest in R&D (24.5 per cent and 21.2 per cent, respectively). There is rising confidence that climate measures will drive innovation and competitiveness in Indonesia’s economy (from 6.6 in 2021 to 7.6 in 2022, on a scale of one to ten). This consumer confidence is a green light for economic innovations.
The latter two actions require policymakers, particularly parliamentarians, to produce a suitable regulatory framework to address climate change. The survey shows that a striking percentage of Indonesian respondents feel that existing political parties have not been prioritising climate change:
None of the political parties with seats in parliament now has put the climate crisis on their manifesto. An emerging Indonesian Green Party (PHI) has a climate-oriented agenda and pushes for green economic reform but has not yet qualified to participate in Indonesian elections. Atypical politicians from mainstream political parties have emerged as public proponents of climate action, such as Dyah Roro Esti (Golkar Party) and Sugeng Suparwoto (NasDem Party), but they remain a small minority.
Political parties and business leaders should pay attention to these survey results as Indonesia’s 2024 elections approach and as Indonesian voters and consumers get younger and more on board with a green agenda. Indonesians’ responses show that the climate agenda is worth pursuing. Once it is entrenched in the political and economic agenda, collective climate action would have a better chance of leading to a green transformation.
Aninda Dewayanti is a Research Officer in the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute.