United by the Coalition for Clean Air Initiative, a group of engaged citizens gathered at Jakarta’s City Hall in early December 2018 to protest the city’s persistent smog, ranked worst in SouthEast Asia and on the rise in recent years. They promised that if the government remained inactive in pushing policy to help mitigate the problem, and ineffective at enforcing pre-established air pollution laws, they would take legal action against the government for endangering public health.
The threat’s 90-day good-will period expired March 1st, 2019, with no efforts by the government to curtail the problem. Now, in their good faith, citizens have filed the forebode lawsuit.
The Coalition for Clean Air Initiative hopes the lawsuit will apply pressure on a key emission source, coal-based energy plants - particularly as the region’s energy demands skyrocket.
Since Indonesia, along with much of SouthEast Asia, has considerably relaxed laws regarding coal-based energy, many foreign investors have entered the market to cash in on the weak regulations. By far the largest investor is China, which has poured more than $5.5 billion (USD) into plants in Indonesia, according to the 2019 report from the Institute for Energy Economics.
A verdict at the lower court is expected later this year. If the ruling is in favor of the Coalition for Clean Air Initiative, they expect that the government will appeal until it’s escalated to the Supreme Court.
Fajri Fadhillah, a legal assistant with the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law, has estimated a final court verdict, should the case be escalated, likely won’t be delivered until the end of 2020, at the earliest. In the meantime, the Coalition for Clean Air Initiative and many of the city’s residents are planning a multifaceted approach to improving air quality. This approach entails 1) appealing to the Jakarta governor as a potential ally, 2) engaging citizens in public education, 3) applying pressure to further regulate China-financed coal power projects, as the city works on a strategy for air quality management.