Climate Change

Why is Indonesia changing its capital?

Global warming has a role in the move

Published: Thursday 20 January 2022

On January 18, 2022, Indonesia passed a bill to move its capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan, situated in the east of Borneo island about 2,000 kilometers away. The new capital city of the country will be called Nusantara which translates to “archipelago”.

Jakarta has been Indonesia’s capital since the country became independent in 1949. So why change now?

The reason behind Indonesia's decision is simple. Jakarta is sinking. The northern part of Jakarta that meets the Java sea has been sinking 25 centimetres a year and it is affecting the 10 million people living in the city.

Jakarta does not have access to clean overground water. Instead, it depends on drilled borewells to extract groundwater for its population.

But as the city became overcrowded, the number of pumps increased. As more water was sucked out of the ground, the land above began to drop. This, in addition to rise in sea-level because of climate change, accelerated the rate at which the city is shrinking. 

Jakarta is built on a delta but 40 per cent of it is below sea level. This combined with sea-level rise and an inefficient water management system means that Jakarta gets flooded very frequently.

A third of the city could be underwater by 2050, according to environmental experts. Indonesian President Joko Widodo first announced the plan to move the capital city from Jakarta in 2019.

By relocating the capital, the government also hopes to redistribute wealth. Java is home to 60 per cent of the country’s population and more than half of its economic activities, even though Kalimantan is almost four times bigger.

And even though the Indonesian president promised the capital will be a “low carbon superhub”, there are major environmental issues with this grand plan. Many environmentalists have warned that moving the capital to East Kalimantan would lead to massive deforestation and the destruction of East Kalimantan’s rich flora and fauna. Borneo’s rainforests is the third-largest biological hotspot and home to orangutans, sun bears and long-nosed monkeys.

The Borneo rainforest has over 221 land mammal species, 420 species of birds, 15,000 flowering plant species and 3,000 varieties of trees. These are already under tremendous attack by the country's mining and palm oil industries.

Even though there are strong protests against the shifting, Indonesia is moving ahead with its most ambitious project yet. If Nusantara becomes a reality, Indonesia would be following in the footsteps of Brazil, Malaysia and Myanmar to move their capital.

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