Post #5: Indonesia’s Record on the Environment and Human Rights

As I stated in my previous blog post, Indonesia is currently experiencing the devastating effects of climate change. According to the World Bank, Indonesia has been identified as one of the most at-risk countries in Asia. Its geographic location puts it at risk for flooding from rising sea levels. What little water Indonesians have is often polluted and un-drinkable. While not as severe as China or some other Asian countries, smog and haze are still a significant problem in Indonesia. The country’s population is also rising fairly drastically, which raises concerns about scarcity of resources. Deforestation is one of the country’s most pressing issues, contributing to overall greenhouse gas emissions and a decrease in biodiversity.

Deforestation in Indonesia (via BBC)

Indonesia’s former president Suharto did not do much to protect the environment during his time in office. His favorable view of business and indifference towards regulations led to the expansion of factories and coal mines that contributed to Indonesia’s environmental degradation. Large amounts of Indonesia’s beautiful and environmentally valuable rainforests were destroyed to make room for plants and factories. However, in 1998, the country began moving in a different direction. Indonesia ratified the Kyoto Protocol, a global climate agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The United States infamously refrained from signing the agreement. In 2014, Indonesia signed the Doha Amendment, which extends their commitment to the Kyoto Protocol until at least 2020. According to the Climate Policy Initiative, Indonesia has ambitiously pledged to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by the year 2020. However, Indonesia’s commitment to these environmental policies is questionable. Indonesia has only a medium rating on Climate Action Tracker, an organization that monitors country’s commitment to promises they make regarding environmental policies. Indonesia received this rating because they are reportedly going to increase their reliance on coal, which will make it difficult for them to decrease overall emissions. This also contradicts their promise to increase their use of renewable energy to 23% of their total energy usage by 2025. Deforestation also does not appear to be decreasing within the country, further contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Indonesia has made a lot of promises when it comes to fighting climate change. Whether or not they will stay true to these promises remains to be seen.

Projected deforestation rates in Indonesia through 2020 (via WWF)

Indonesia also has a questionable record when it comes to human rights. Many hoped the country’s most recent president, Joko Widodo, would take a stronger stance on human rights violations than his predecessors. However, according to the Human Rights Watch, Widodo’s human rights record during his first few years in office is not impressive. He is an outspoken supporter of the death penalty, and authorized the execution of 14 non-violent offenders in 2015, one of whom reportedly suffered from mental disabilities. The president who came before him executed only 20 people in ten years. Religious minorities are at great risk in Indonesia. The Human Rights Watch reports that there were 194 violent attacks against religious minorities in 2015. Inter-religious marriage is also outlawed in Indonesia. Women in Indonesia also face discriminatory laws which reduce them to second-class citizens. Women applying to the military or police force must undergo sexist and medieval “virginity tests,” and the country’s Constitutional Court recently rejected an appeal to raise the minimum age of marriage for girls from 16 to 18.

Political cartoon from the Human Rights Watch 

Human rights and environmental issues are more intertwined than ever. Our earth’s current crisis is leaving more and more people without food or clean water. Rising sea levels are already affecting small, island countries such as Palau. Eventually, rising sea levels will force millions of people to migrate from their homes, becoming “environmental refugees.” If we as citizens are to remain committed to the protection of human rights, we must move away from our “Eurocentric” view and realize people around the world are already experiencing the devastating effects of climate change.


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