Air Pollution in Indonesia
Challenges and Imperatives for Change

by Satya Widya Yudha
April 11, 2016

Satya Widya Yudha (House of Representatives, Indonesia) discusses the causes and severe costs of air pollution in Indonesia and outlines policy prescriptions for improving emissions outlooks and combatting climate change.

The social, economic, and ecological implications of climate change are potentially massive and unprecedented. With climate change comes rising sea levels, warming oceans, higher global temperatures, and tropical storm surges, along with corresponding social and economic crises at a global level. As a disaster-prone archipelago nation, Indonesia is particularly vulnerable to the worst effects of global warming, including increased risks of drought, flooding, landslides, fires, and disease, as well as the possibility of losing entire islands to rising sea levels. In addition, higher emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) have caused rapidly worsening air pollution that wreaks havoc on the environment and people’s health, a problem that Indonesia knows far too well.

Haze and Forest Fires

In 2015, Indonesia experienced one of its most destructive fire seasons to date, further worsening the country’s air pollution. On October 14, 4,719 fires were observed burning simultaneously in the peatlands and forests of the archipelago, emitting approximately 80 million metric tons of CO2 during a single day—five times the average daily emissions from the entire U.S. economy. [1] Haze from forest fires is an annually occurring socio-ecological crisis in Indonesia that releases greenhouse gas emissions that are monumental in scale. The Center for International Forestry Research found that in 2013 one week of blazes in an Indonesian forest with just 1.6% of the country’s total land area released emissions equivalent to 5%–10% of Indonesia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. [2] The haze and its implications, as scandalous as they are, offer a perfect snapshot of Indonesia’s current situation in regard to air pollution and carbon emissions.

The human cost of air pollution in Indonesia is shocking: the 2015 haze caused upward of 75,000 cases of upper respiratory infections. [3] Moreover, a 2010 study found that 57.8% of the population of Jakarta suffered from various diseases related to air pollution, including bronchial asthma, bronchopneumonia, and coronary artery diseases. [4] Moreover, the national 35,000-megawatt development project is expected to increase the number of premature deaths from 6,500 to 28,300 people per year due to impending air pollution from coal-fired power plants. [5]

Imperatives for Change

The question we should now be asking is how we move forward. Mutually supporting data from various sources shows that a majority of Indonesia’s emissions come from land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF), which includes forest fires and peat degradation, while the rest come from a mixture of energy and transportation-related emissions. [6] At the heart of LULUCF is the issue of inadequate land and forest management. In this sector, the government needs to drive forward legal reforms, improve peatland and forest governance, create a “one map” integration of all geospatial readings, set a moratorium on the issuance of new permits for the exploitation of forests and peatlands, provide a license information system, and develop peatland water canals. Indonesia’s forest carbon stocks must be maintained and enhanced through conservation, sustainable forest management, or rehabilitation and restoration of degraded forest land. On top of all this, the country must provide benefits by increasing environmental services, supporting biodiversity, and improving the welfare of local communities and indigenous peoples.

In the energy sector, Indonesia must enhance energy security and mitigate CO2 emissions in order to protect strategic reserves, improve efficiency in energy production and use, increase reliance on non-fossil fuels, and sustain the domestic supply of oil and gas through decreased fossil fuel consumption. In addition, the government must support the use of proposed breakthrough technologies, including the diffusion and deployment of clean-energy technologies. Energy must be produced by high-efficiency power generation, such as clean-coal technology and combined heat and power technology, and the equipment and the industrial sector must ramp up its energy efficiency. In the transportation sector, Indonesia should adopt European emission standards (Euro 4 in 2021 and Euro 5 in 2025), switching the basic mode of transportation and attempting to mitigate current emissions by enforcing a low-sulfur fuel and low-emission vehicle policy. [7]

Last but not least, Indonesia must promote the drafting of a climate change act that establishes a national target, adaptation, and mitigation plan, as well as an institutional body that supports this effort. This act should give a long-term signal on the government’s policy direction and commitment, as well as on public and private engagement. It should provide reassurances to potential investors to drive a green economy, provide a framework for long-term national security, and create new opportunities for green jobs, green industry, and green consumption.

Moving Forward

The world is currently at a critical juncture. The issues at stake are not merely economic, social, or political in nature but rather concern the fundamental basis of what makes all these factors possible: the ability of the planet to sustain life. We are currently experiencing the hottest temperatures of the last 11,000 years, which have continued to rise and are unequivocally in line with global trends for CO2 emissions. Rising emissions do not just cause climate change but rather exacerbate the current situation in all facets of life. Indonesia has experienced some of the worst side effects of climate change and must act now to prevent continued destruction of the natural world.


[1] Average daily emissions in the United States amount to 15.95 metric tons of CO2 per day. See Nancy Harris, Susan Minnemeyer, Fred Stolle, and Octavia Aris Payne, “Indonesia’s Fire Outbreaks Producing More Daily Emissions Than Entire U.S. Economy,” World Resources Institute, October 16, 2015,

[2] “Major Atmospheric Emissions from Peat Fires in Southeast Asia during Non-Drought Years: Evidence from the 2013 Sumatran Fires,” Center for International Forestry Research, 2014,

[3] Damian Carrington, “Indonesian Forest Fires on Track to Emit More CO2 Than UK,” Guardian, October 7, 2015,

[4] According to a 2010 case study of Jakarta, 1,210,581 people suffered from bronchial asthma, 173,487 people from bronchopneumonia, 2,449,986 people from acute respiratory infections, 336,273 people from pneumonia, 153,724 people from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and 1,246,130 people from coronary artery diseases. For a list of these air pollution–related diseases, see Ahmad Safrudin, “Low Sulfur Fuel, Vehicle Emission and Fuel Economy Standard” (presentation at the Conclave of Champion Cities of Asia and Africa in Clean Air and Sustainable Mobility, New Delhi, April 9–10, 2015),

[5] Greenpeace, “Human Cost of Coal Power: How Coal-Fired Power Plants Threaten the Health of Indonesians,” August 2015,

[6] See “CAIT Climate Data Explorer,” World Resources Institute; and “REDD in Indonesia,” UN Office for REDD+ Coordination in Indonesia.

[7] There have been several successful case studies around the world, including quality improvements to low-sulfur diesel fuel in several cities in China, India, and Brazil; the use of non-oil alternative fuel in New Delhi; the tightening of new vehicle emission standards in several cities in China and India; the adoption of high taxes for high-emission passenger vehicles in New Delhi; and a scrapping policy for the switching of Euro 4 cars in Beijing.

Satya Widya Yudha is a member of Commission VII in the House of Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia. He has spoken at a number of NBR events, including the annual Pacific Energy Summit and the 2015 Energy Security Program workshop.