- Indonesia, one of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, has put forward a plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070.
- The government says it’s the most ambitious and realistic target for Indonesia, but activists and experts say the government can do much more, much sooner, given that China, the top emitter, has a net-zero deadline of 2060.
- They also criticized the government’s plan for its continued reliance on coal as a primary component of the national energy mix over the coming decades, despite universal recognition of coal’s role in climate change.
- The plan also lumps coal gasification, which the government is incentivizing, into its basket of renewable energies; it may also include hydrogen (which uses fossil fuels in its production) and nuclear energy in this same category.
JAKARTA — The Indonesian government has announced a plan that puts the country on a path toward carbon neutrality by 2070, but activists say the timeframe is too long to make a positive contribution in the fight against climate change.
The “Long-term Strategy on Low Carbon and Climate Resilience 2050,” which the government will submit this month to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), also maintains a heavy reliance on coal in the country’s energy mix.
The plan offers three scenarios for reducing emissions, the most ambitious of which will see emissions peak in 2030 before declining to net-zero by 2070, said Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar.
But that’s too far off, activists say, noting that China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, has committed to a net-zero emissions goal by 2060, and other major emitters such as Japan and South Korea have pledged to do likewise by 2050.
“2070 is still far from hope because some countries have set tighter deadlines,” said Novita Indri, an activist with Greenpeace Indonesia and previously a climate campaigner with the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).
Reduction target unchanged
Novita also criticized the government for not setting a more ambitious emissions reduction target to counter increasingly dire climate change projections.
The government has committed to reducing emissions by 29% from the business-as-usual scenario by 2030, or 41% with international assistance, which is stipulated in its climate action plan under the Paris Agreement, known as its nationally determined contribution (NDC).
In its updated NDC, which it will submit together with the long-term strategy to the UNFCCC, Indonesia will stick with its current emissions reduction target.
“It’s regrettable that the target remains the same in the NDC,” said Novita, who co-authored a 2020 analysis of Indonesia’s NDC with Walhi. “This doesn’t show seriousness, even though the environment ministry says this is already ambitious compared to other countries.”
Citing data from the Climate Action Tracker, an initiative by Climate Analytics and the NewClimate Institute that tracks government actions and policies, Novita said Indonesia’s climate pledge was rated as “highly insufficient.” This means that even if the country meets its reduction target, that won’t be enough to slow global warming to below 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels. Instead, Indonesia’s pledge is in line with warming of 3-4°C (5.4-7.2°F).
By sticking to its current plan, Indonesia could exceed its target in terms of the percentage of emissions reduced, while still doubling the absolute volume of emissions, according to the Climate Action Tracker.
“So because the NDC target is not raised, honestly I was very pessimistic when I heard that we would aim for net zero emissions in 2070,” Novita said. “I’m 23 years old now, I don’t think I’ll make it to 2070.”
‘2070 is logical for us’
A 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says net global anthropogenic CO2 emissions will need to reach zero around 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) and avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change. If all countries are only able to reach net zero by 2070, then the planet’s temperature will likely increase to 2°C, which will make the planet much more inhospitable compared to the 1.5°C scenario.
Ruandha Agung Sugardiman, the Indonesian environment ministry’s director-general for climate change, said 2070 was the most realistic target for the country after taking into account its economy and population.
“We need to consider our national development to maintain economic growth at 5-7% as well as the population size,” he said during a recent press conference. “The net-zero emissions target by 2070 is logical for us.”
The need to continue growing the economy has been used by the government to justify a recent string of regulations that aim to attract investment and create job opportunities, while sidelining social and environmental protections in the process.
Novita, in her final year at university and still seeking a job, said she’s much more concerned about the environment than the economy.
“Because if our environment is damaged, then no matter how much GDP per capita we have, how much money we get, it will be used to pay for the damage to the environment,” she said.
Coal in the mix
Experts point to the energy sector as the reason why the 2070 target is underwhelming.
The country’s energy consumption is growing at one of the fastest rates in the world, with coal accounting for nearly 60% of the energy mix in 2018. Indonesia’s energy policy, therefore, has important implications not just for the country’s climate future, but also for global efforts to achieve cuts under the Paris Agreement.
While the government is looking to offset emissions through reduced deforestation and increased reforestation — essentially turning the country’s forests back into a net carbon sink by 2030 — its energy will still come primarily from coal in 2050.
“We most likely will use [coal] because indeed we have a lot of coal in this country,” Dadan Kusdiana, the director-general of renewable energy at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, said during a public consultation of the long-term strategy on March 24. “[Coal] is a primary resource for our development.”
Under the plan to be submitted to the UNFCCC, 34% of Indonesia’s energy will come from coal in 2050, followed by new and renewable energy at 33%, and gas at 25%. This means Indonesia will still consume 293 million tons of coal in 2050.
While this would be an improvement over the current policy scenario — which would see coal consumption of 420 million tons in 2050, accounting for 45% of the energy mix — experts say it’s not ambitious enough.
Adila Isfandiari, a climate change and energy researcher with Greenpeace Indonesia, said the projected coal consumption under the new scenario is actually a regression from previous government documents, such as the National General Energy Planning roadmap, or RUEN, and the NDC.
“Because in both the RUEN and NDC, coal only makes up 25% [of the energy mix] in 2050,” she said.
By embarking on this new path, the government actually plans to consume more coal than previously planned, according to Adila. That will make it even more difficult for renewable energy to find a footing in the country, she added.
Adoption of renewables in Indonesia currently trails far behind most countries and falls short of the country’s true potential, with government policies heavily favoring fossil fuels. For example, coal-fired power plants receive hefty subsidies, while there are no carbon disincentives to encourage investment in renewable energy.
The playing field is even made more uneven with recent regulations that provide even more incentives for the coal industry. Among them is a sweeping overhaul of mining regulations that activists warn will encourage companies to dig for more coal, unconstrained by environmental or social safeguards.
Under the newly loosened regulatory regime, coal-mining companies are exempted from paying royalties if they develop downstream facilities, such as gasification plants or coal-fired power plants.
Coal gasification, in which solid coal is turned into the liquid fuels methanol and dimethyl ether (DME) that can replace imported liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), has been touted as the next big thing for the industry. Coal proponents in the government say gasification projects will benefit the economy by enabling the use of more domestic energy, preserving jobs and investment in the coal industry.
There are already a number of gasification plants in the pipeline, such as one being developed by state-owned coal miner PT Bukit Asam, which is slated to go into operation by 2024.
Adila said this plan to push for coal gasification will make it harder to develop truly sustainable and renewable energy sources like solar or wind. The government considers coal gasification a form of “new energy,” and thus lumps it in with renewables under the umbrella of “new and renewable energy.” As a result, coal gasification will count toward the renewable energy target.
Still more coal
Fabby Tumiwa, executive director of sustainability think tank the Institute for Essential Services Reform (IESR), called on the government to be much more ambitious in transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables as fast as possible.
“Based on IESR’s calculation, if Indonesia wants to undergo energy transition to meet the Paris climate target, which means achieving net-zero emissions by mid-century, then renewables have to make up at least 70% [of the energy mix] in 2050,” he told Mongabay.
To achieve that, Indonesia would have to stop building new coal-fired power plants after 2029, and start phasing out plants that are more than 20 years old after that, Fabby added.
“This way, we are on track to net-zero emissions,” he said. “This is different from the scenario from the environment ministry, which still maintains coal power plants.”
But Indonesia already has many new coal plants in the pipeline, with a plan to add another 31 gigawatts to the existing 33 GW of operating coal power generation. Only China, India and Turkey have more coal capacity in the works.
Coal remains an integral part of the government’s plans because of its cost and easy availability, Fabby said. Furthermore, coal proponents argue that emissions from coal plants can be reduced using carbon capture and storage technology, he added.
But that technology is still very expensive and could lead to a doubling of the cost of electricity, according to Fabby.
“This technology is still not viable until today,” he said. “Maybe it can be in 20 to 30 years. But what’s conveyed [in the government’s plan] is not transparent. We don’t know how [emissions from coal plants] will be reduced, using what technology and at what cost.”
Ruandha, the environment ministry’s climate chief, said it’s possible the government could pull the net-zero target forward by a decade, to 2060, especially with greater cuts in the energy sector.
“To reach [net-zero emissions] before 2070, there has to be a more ambitious effort and it’s more logical if [the effort] is ramped up in the energy sector,” he said. “If we want to be more ambitious, [maybe] we [can] include other energy [as renewables], such as hydrogen and nuclear. So that maybe [net-zero emissions can be] achieved not in 2070, but 2060.”
Under the current 29% emission reduction target, emissions from deforestation need to go down by 70%, while the energy sector only needs to achieve a 19% emissions reduction.
The energy sector has attempted to limit its responsibility for reducing emissions in the past. When the environment ministry was drafting the country’s NDC in 2016, more than half of the reductions were supposed to come from the energy sector, in line with projections that power generation would overtake deforestation as the leading cause of emissions in the country.
But the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources pushed back. The ministry’s director-general for new and renewable energy at that time, Rida Mulyana, called this burden sharing unrealistic and unduly onerous for the energy sector.
The government subsequently revised its calculation, requiring reductions from the energy sector to account for just over a third of the 29% figure.
Novita, the climate activist and university student, said she’s pessimistic the government will change its mind on coal.
“I wasn’t surprised,” she said of the government’s continued reliance on coal in its path toward net-zero emissions. “I’ve become numb.”
She said it seems like the government is ignoring the voices of the younger generation, who have been demanding a more ambitious climate target and a faster transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy so that they can enjoy a healthier environment and cleaner air.
“As a youngster, I feel like my voice hasn’t been heard,” Novita said. “The government should involve young people as one of the subjects of their policies, but they haven’t done that. So no wonder if you talk to young people about the government’s policies, they’ll respond unenthusiastically because they’ve grown apathetic.”
She said she worries about raising her future children in a world forever altered by climate change.
“What if I can’t guarantee that they’ll live a better life?” Novita said. “Even now, when I see my nephews who are still little … I wonder what will happen to them in the next five years.”
Banner image: Children and teenagers demand more climate action during a climate strike in Jakarta, Indonesia, in September 2019. Image by Lusia Arumingtyas/Mongabay Indonesia.
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