Three weeks after the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, wrapped up in Glasgow, Scotland, criticism continues pouring in, including commitments from countries (NDC) that are deemed not ambitious enough, to negotiations that are perceived as an environmental trade hiding behind net-zero emissions targeted to be achieved by 2050.

The Indonesian government also pledged its commitment to curb the impacts of climate crisis. However, the exploitation of coal and deforestation in the name of development in the country continue to be given a red carpet.

Following COP26, a number of environmental organisations are concerned about the new development plan using the net-zero carbon emissions concept. The development of green economy in the name of climate crisis commitment is feared to disrupt peoples’ living spaces.

To learn more about the negotiations that took place at COP26, and Indonesia’s challenges moving forward, the Society of Indonesian Environmental Journalists (SIEJ) interviewed Siti Maimunah on 23 December 2021. The Jember University graduate was a delegate of the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM), a non-governmental (NGO) and community-based (CBO)organization working on issues concerning human rights, gender, environment, indigenous people, and social justice in the mining, oil, and gas industries.

While dealing with environmental issues, what kind of cases have you handled?

The cases I have handled in the past are related to mining and women. Many cases begun with issuance of permit without the community’s knowledge, resulting in multi-layered conflicts. Conflicts between the government and the community, corporation with and the community, overlapping of permits.

In my observation, the government and (mining) corporations treat the nature as an object. Policies are taken without considering whether the area can be exploited, or whether the community needs to be given space for discussions concerning extraction projects to meet export demand. This pattern persists and is getting more acute.

When the government grant permits that have potential to damage the environment, disasters occur. When the government is unable to carry out restoration on damaged areas, health problems and other ecological disasters follow. This is a pattern often occurs in the mining industry.

Do you have any story that stands out from the environmental cases you’ve handled?

I don’t handle cases by myself, always a collective effort with colleagues. One valuable experience was when we were assisting women in Molo, East Nusa Tenggara. It was a case of marble mining on customary land, used by the mining company as debt guarantee.

The Molo women taught us that nature is like a human body, bones are like the rocky mountains, water is like blood, soil is like the flesh, the forest is like the skin and hair. Damaging the nature is like gnawing on our body. The environment is not just a matter of science, there are many other dimensions beyond our capabilities. The government never takes into account the risks faced by communities when the environment is polluted.

You were one of the delegates at the COP26, representing an environmental organisation. What is your observation of the way world leaders are handling the climate crisis?

They appeared to be serious in dealing with climate crisis, but with policies that are only benefiting corporations. For example, the net-zero emissions commitment, it’s as though carbon emissions are zeroed in the carbon neutral framework to tackle climate crisis. We can continue to burn fossil fuel as long as we replant the forest.

These kinds of engineering will certainly make it difficult for us to transition from fossil fuel, let alone achieve net-zero emissions.

The commitment conveyed is not to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but to commodify nature with a net-zero emissions system in the form of carbon trading. The climate crisis is not being responded to by recovery, instead by trading the crisis.

What about measures announced by the Indonesian government at the COP26?

Besides palm oil and coal sectors, Indonesia announced plans to develop green energy, one of which is the development of commodities for electric vehicles. When in fact electric vehicles is also considered as dirty energy as the battery requires nickel.

Living spaces of communities in districts where nickel mining takes place, will be affected, for instance in Morowali, Central Sulawesi. Halmahera Island in Maluku is experiencing heavy pollution caused by mining. This condition never make it to the President’s speech at the COP.

The development of green energy announced by Indonesia also implies larger mining activities in North Sumatera for Zinc, as another electric battery component. The impact? The land used to grow durian trees by the community will be lost. So will the community’s sustainable economy, not to mention the carbon that will be released into the atmosphere which will exacerbate the impact of climate crisis, as the number land conversion increases.

Indonesia’s commitment is not ambitious enough?

In my observation Indonesia’s commitment will not reduce the greenhouse gas emission. On the contrary, it will increase greenhouse gas emission because there is no effort to reduce the use of fossil fuel, especially coal. This, in turn, will increase and worsen the impact of climate crisis on the people.

Statement by the minister of the environment and forestry on development and deforestation was heavily criticised. Your thoughts?

Although the environment and forestry ministry has taken steps in forest protection, they have not been optimal. One of them is the recognition of customary forest – the process is very slow compared to the granting of permits for land concession. Current developments are in fact creating massive economic inequalities and environmental degradation.

Your view on the mining sector which is often getting support from stakeholders?

Based on my finding when I was doing research for my masters and PhD on coal, East Kalimantan is the largest supplier of coal in the country. Central Kalimantan will be the next expansion area to be exploited. This exploitation will never stop as long as corporations are granted permits easily.

JATAM’s study has shown how politicians and party elites are involved in granting permits for mining concessions. This is what JATAM calls as political bond.

You also often writes about your time in Glasgow. Can you tell us more?

The COP is an elitist conference. On November 1, when COP26 started, I received sad news from East Kalimantan, another resident died in the mining pit. The message about Feby, and 39 others who died in the mining pit, the plan of coal mining expansions, and Indonesia’s status as one of the largest exporters of coal in the world, were just a number of environmental issues that never made it to the COP agenda. I tried to voice these issues at the COP26 in Glasgow and in my daily journal.

In addition, Glasgow is an important city as part of a reflection of the causes of the climate crisis. Glasgow was the second city of the empire, where Great Britain started the industrial revolution with its steam engine. The COP26 meeting was held at the Scottish Event Campus near the Clyde River, one of the locations for the shipbuilding.

Glasgow is a city that thrived on the textile, tobacco and sugar trade which was exploited from the colonies. The holding of COP26 in Glasgow became a symbol of the cause of the climate crisis and a portrait of capitalists who amassed wealth through violence and dispossession from their colonies.

I then wondered what difference would that be with the current government resorting to violence by imposing development projects that are causing the climate crisis. This becomes a recurring pattern from what happened in Glasgow in the past. That’s what prompted me to write this daily journal, so I can easily reflect on history and the climate crisis.

Post-COP26, what are the issues that need to be monitored?

In my opinion, it is crucial to pay attention to the consequences of net-zero emissions projects that will potentially displace the people. For example, the development of renewable energy for solar cells on a large scale. The guise of green projects such as this should not harm communities in the name of climate crisis commitments.

There’s a great push for the role of youth in tackling climate crisis. How can we involve more young people in protecting the environment?

The youth must be treated just as important as the fishermen, farmers, women, and other members of society. As an entity that has special needs, perspective, and a different life experience, they will be the generation that will face the impacts of climate crisis.

Perhaps the impacts of climate crisis they face, will be worse than now, so it’s important to build their awareness about the threats of the climate crisis, not to be the next destroyer of nature, and involve them directly in efforts to protect the environment.

Abdus Somad

Abdus Somad

Abdus Somad, born in Karangasem, Bali, 27 years ago. He plunged into journalism by joining Axis Student Press at Ahmad Dahlan University, Yogyakarta. After graduating from college in 2018, he worked as...

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