May 30, 2024 Last Updated 8:34 AM, May 27, 2024

Climate change and Indonesia

Climate change and Indonesia

Judith Mayer, Alex Ryan and Edward Aspinall

   Will REDD protect forests against fire?
Daniel Beltra

Indonesia is both victim and source of climate change. As an archipelago nation with a population concentrated along coastlines, Indonesia’s major cities and coastal communities are vulnerable to rising sea levels, worsening floods and unpredictable storms. Droughts and fires, aggravated by changing weather patterns, ravage both farmers’ hopes and remaining natural forests.

But Indonesia is also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, peatland draining, forest and land fires, as well being as a significant producer, exporter and consumer of fossil fuels. Recent international initiatives also assert that the country can play a central role in mitigating global climate change, by conserving and replanting forests, protecting peatlands, and managing fires.

Who will bear responsibility for making these changes? Who will pay for them, both financially and in terms of the social disruption they will cause? How – and to whom – will the benefits be distributed? Such questions have generated a world of new United Nation programs and national initiatives. Climate change mitigation has already started in Indonesia, and bigger and more ambitious programs are planned. In particular, Indonesia is at the forefront of global efforts to tackle climate change by way of programs known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), and REDD+ (which also promises benefits to communities). The promises are great, but so are the potential pitfalls.

This special edition of Inside Indonesia focuses on the challenges of climate change in Indonesia by zeroing in on the environmental, livelihood, social equity, and policy issues that are entwined in this complex issue. Our lead article, by long-time activist and analyst Patrick Anderson provides an overview of the issues involved and the principles at stake. Focusing in on Indonesia’s forests, he notes the sensitive political, cultural and social equity issues that arise when policy-makers try to protect biomass that is also a source of livelihood for some of Indonesia’s poorest people. As well as introducing the REDD framework, he points to an important principle elaborated by many of the authors in this special edition: the central importance of recognising the rights and needs of forest communities and other disadvantaged groups. The poor must be put first if climate change is to be tackled effectively.

Frank Jotzo, an economist, provides a detailed analysis of the emissions targets set by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his government, carefully analysing what they mean and how they might be achieved. Daniel Murdiyarso, as one of Indonesia’s foremost climate scientists and a former assistant minister in charge of environmental impact assessment, sees financial and political benefits presented by REDD. He also argues the recent announcement of a two-year moratorium on logging and land conversion of all primary forests and peatlands is an opportunity for Indonesia to revamp its forest governance institutions and mobilise wider public support for climate change mitigation.

Next we have two articles that focus specifically on the REDD and REDD+ projects that are already underway in Indonesia, as part of a global vision to offset carbon emissions in the rich world by preserving forests in poor countries. Brihannala Morgan surveys forest protection and afforestation pilot projects across the country, pointing to deleterious effects for people in villages in and near project areas. She fears a new model is emerging in Indonesia, whereby REDD projects move ahead without engaging affected communities in any meaningful way. Along the same line, an NGO based in Banda Aceh, the Environmental Justice and Governance Research Lab, presents the results of its survey of local community leader from the Ulu Masem REDD+ project zone in Aceh, discovering a disturbing lack of local knowledge of and engagement in the project.

Siti Maimunah continues with the social justice theme, pointing out how climate change particularly affects marginalised communities, and is spurring a growing movement for climate justice in Indonesia. She explains implications of climate impacts in the face of both inequality within Indonesia and an emerging international regime in which developing nations – including Indonesia – are being asked to bear the brunt of responsibility for net reductions in global carbon emissions, leaving the rich countries which have contributed most to climate change off the hook.

In a piece by Silvia Irawan, we see encouraging signs that local governments in Papua and Riau are becoming interested in REDD+ projects, but there is not yet enough action at the national level to make this readiness bear fruit.Finally, Fitrian Ardiansyah analyses Indonesia’s own energy use. Noting national policies that encourage the burning of fossil fuels, he also points out that Indonesia has among the largest untapped sources of renewable energy in the world. If Indonesia wants to get serious about climate change, it needs to switch from burning dirty fuels to clean renewable energy sources.

One thing is clear: the challenges of climate change and of climate change mitigation are going to be more and more important for Indonesia in years to come. Climate change and projects designed to head it off are going to affect many millions of Indonesians. This special edition, we hope, begins to spell out some of the complexities that will be involved and shed lights on the opportunities that lie in the hands of a country that possesses some of the most biologically diverse and carbon-rich forests in the world.

Many people helped us put together this edition of Inside Indonesia. We especially thank Lesley McCulloch for her many useful inputs and Thushara Dibley for her technical assistance.

Judith Mayer ( is a member of Inside Indonesia’s editorial team. An environmental planner based in northern California, she coordinates the Borneo Project for the Earth Island Institute.

Alex Ryan ( is a trainer and facilitator with Hijau Biru, a Bali-based consultancy specialising in participatory processes. She has lived in Indonesia for the last eight years, working with NGOs on forests and sustainable development and is currently the steering committee chair of the Plastic-Free Bali campaign.

Edward Aspinall ( is a researcher at the Australian National University and coordinating editor of Inside Indonesia.

Inside Indonesia 105: Jul-Sep 2011

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