As It Happens

Indonesia's plan to build new capital city puts people, wildlife at risk: Greenpeace

Indonesia's plan to build a new capital city on the island of Borneo could have a devastating effect on forests, wildlife and people, says Greenpeace. 

'It will be inevitable that this will cause environmental problems,' says Jasmine Puteri

The city of Jakarta on the island of Java is now home to 10 million people, and is prone to floods, traffic gridlock and faces the risk of earthquakes. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)


Indonesia's plan to build a new capital city on the island of Borneo could have a devastating effect on forests, wildlife and people, says Greenpeace. 

Indonesia revealed on Monday the site for its new multibillion-dollar capital to replace Jakarta, which has been plagued by pollution and overcrowding, and is slowly sinking into the sea.

Officials say they want it to be "a smart city in the forest" and have set aside 180,000 hectares of government land, straddling the regions of North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara in in the province of East Kalimantan.

Jasmine Puteri, a Jakartan and the senior forest campaigner with Greenpeace Indonesia, spoke to As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about the announcement. Here is part of their conversation. 

The government says it has been studying this for about three years it seems to be offering some solid arguments. What did you think when you learned of the plan?

Unfortunately, I must say that there hadn't been any public consultation and there was no inclusive process. That's why Greenpeace is quite disappointed with the process. 

As we know, Borneo Island is well-known for its Indigenous people, communities and groups and they should be involved in the discussion.

This aerial picture taken on Aug. 16 by news outlet Tribun Kaltim shows a general view of Samboja, Kutai Kartanegara, one of two locations Indonesia's new capital will straddle. (Fachmi Rachman/AFP/Getty Images)

This is an area that's environmentally rich. What kind of concerns do you, Greenpeace and other activists have about this?

In the north, part it is very close to Bukit Soeharto, the conservation area, while into the south part, it's very close to Bangkirai forest conservation areas. So this is very concerning for us.

This conservation area is well known for its protection of orangutans. What happens to them in this plan?

Greenpeace is currently still doing in-depth analysis. But we know that there [are] certain areas which is designated for the wildlife habitat and we believe this could threaten the species, especially orangutan.

The Indonesian government is arguing that this will be a smart green city, that they will build it in a sustainable way. Do you think that that's possible? 

Honestly speaking, the government also stated that they will require 180,000 hectares. And we believe this is a very big, large, huge area. And we believe there will be land conversion and it will be inevitable that this will cause environmental problems.

This aerial picture taken on July 12 shows a sea wall dividing houses and the waters along the north Jakarta coast. (Bagus Saragih/AFP/Getty Images)

You are a Jakartan, so I wonder how this solution that the government has come up with makes you feel?

As a Jakartan, it feels like we are being neglected.

Jakarta is facing a lot of environmental problems from air pollution. Jakarta is the most polluted city in the world now currently. And then we have this water crisis, the land subsidence. We have massive traffic jams. And also we have other environmental problems.

If the government are not really having any plan to overcome these issues, then the same issues will happen as well in the new capital city.

It seems the government is arguing, though, that those very problems — the land subsidence, the water table issues — are the reasons it feels it needs to move the capital. The capital is threatened in its current form. I mean, is there a way to address those problems in Jakarta and maintain the capital there?

There are regulations, and enforcing the regulations [is] the main key that the government can do.

Jakarta is surrounded by three coal power plants, which Greenpeace believes [is] one of the main sources of pollution in the city. ... Private transportation or private cars are also contributing to this pollution.

So I think it's very, very vital for the government to really shut down the coal power plant that's surrounding Jakarta and start doing energy transition, as well as regulating the private car usage in the city.
Jasmine Puteri is a senior forest campaigner with Greenpeace Indonesia. (Submitted by Jasmine Puteri)

The government says it's only going to put up about 19 per cent of the money to do this, to establish this new capital in Borneo. It's looking at public-private partnerships for the rest of the money. What do you say to private industry, to corporations that might be willing to take a part in this?

In East Kalimantan, there are some investments on the coal power plants and also there are a lot of palm oil plantations over there, and not to mention the coal mining sectors are pretty strong.

So I think we really have to be very [cautious] about the private sector/public sector partnership because if it will lead to extractive industries, then it will be a catastrophe for the new capital city.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview produced by Allie Jaynes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.