Jakarta is Sinking

Nusantara, meaning “archipelago” in Javanese, is what Indonesia announced its new capital will be called — a fitting name, as Indonesia is one of the largest archipelagos in the Indo-Pacific region. As a result, Indonesia not only faces ethnic, religious and linguistic obstacles to unity, but also literal physical barriers. The most important challenge faced by Indonesia, that will serve as a lesson and a call to action for the rest of the international community, is the severity of climate change and how it directly impacts every country, in particular, island countries such as Indonesia. 

The threat of Indonesia losing its capital to climate change is legitimate and alarming. Thus, it has forced the Indonesian authorities to take action and begin planning the relocation of their capital city. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has decided the capital will be relocated from Jakarta to the province of East Kalimantan, on Borneo. However, Indonesia is by no means the only country that will have to face the consequences of climate change. Making Indonesians’ voice heard is important when it comes to plans of action, such as the pathways of what relocating one’s capital looks like, what steps of action are needed to ensure the safety of all citizens, and what other measures can be taken. 

Currently, Indonesia has the fastest-sinking city in the world, and according to specialists at the Bandung Institute of Technology, “over 95 percent of North Jakarta will be drowned by 2050.” Indonesia is sinking at an alarming rate with sea levels rising 11 inches a year, leaving about 40% of the capital below sea level. The sea levels have increased not only due to overall climate change and melting glaciers, but is exacerbated by the fact that the city is in a valley so the mountain water is relentless in its arrival.  

Amidst these factors, Indonesia has taken actions to mitigate the flooding, particularly after a significant flood in 2013. The Indonesian government made renovations by cleaning reservoirs and flood canals. Another significant effort is the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD), a project to be completed in 2027. This project includes the construction of a seawall and 17 new artificial islands around Jakarta Bay. While there already exists a coastal wall around part of the northern coast, an expansion is needed. However, because the coast is sinking beneath the wall, some argue this is not a lasting solution. 

Indonesia is the third-largest tropical forest in the world, meaning there are many factors at risk with this relocation. For example, the province of East Kalimantan, where Indonesia’s new capital will be, is home to significant biodiversity. At present, East Kalimantan comprises 18 million acres of tropical forest. Thus upon relocation of infrastructure as significant and massive as the new capital, there will be severe environmental losses — such as potentially harming the remaining 5% of the planet’s wild orangutans. To counter the negative environmental effects of relocation, Kalimantan is conducting efforts to preserve its ecosystem, including decreasing deforestation and reducing emissions.

However, Kalimantan’s environmental efforts will be quickly undermined if the capital relocation fails to conduct substantial measures to enhance the sustainability and preservation of their new capital island. According to Dwi Sawung, an official with the Indonesian Forum for Living Environment, an Indonesian environmental non-governmental organization, this is only one of the complications that will be faced by Kalimanta. Sawung states, “There are threats to water systems and risks of climate change, threats to flora and fauna, and threats of pollution and environmental damage.” Going forward, Indonesian authorities must proceed with caution upon their imminent relocation.  

The global example of how to handle circumstances caused by climate change will be dictated by Indonesia. Indonesia’s drastic actions relating to environmental preservation and the relocation of infrastructure will set a precedent for coastal states in the next decade. The international community must acknowledge that Indonesia is an integral part of this conversation, whether it is in the broader international agenda or internally. In the international community, within the Convention on Climate Change (COP27)  Indonesia urged “developed countries that have not updated their NDC 2030 target, to immediately raise their mitigation, adaptation, and implementation facility ambition at COP-27.” Within the Indo-Pacific region, Indonesia can relate to the island nations that face climate displacement of not only their major capitals, but also of their equally important small villages throughout the nation. 
The circumstances force people in the field of international relations to confront the challenging but essential matters of diplomacy, logistics and survival, as Indonesians become “climate migrants seeking lives in places that are drier and higher above sea level.” This is an unfortunate fate that many nations and citizens will have to face due to the rapid climate change consequences. Thus, the actions taken by Indonesia cannot go ignored and must be closely analyzed for the fact that many will share.


Elena Polo

Elena Polo is a sophomore majoring in International Relations. She grew up in central Mexico and moved to the United States when she was nine. Having thus far lived in two countries her interest in international affairs and globalization stems from a comparative point of view. Her main areas of interest are human rights, as well as foreign and climate policy.