Can Indonesian cities drive emissions down without tackling transport?

By: Isyana Artharini on December 7th, 2011,

Indonesia has ambitious plans to green dozens of its cities to help fight climate change. But these plans won’t affect the transport sector for more than a decade and experts warn this could create more environmental problems.

When Indonesia pledged two years ago to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by 26% by 2020, the focus was on forests. And while efforts to reduce deforestation will play a big role in reaching the target, cities are also major sources of emissions.

To date though, there has been little action in the urban centres that are home to half of Indonesia’s population and are themselves highly vulnerable to climate change.

That is set to change as the Ministry of Public Works has called on cities to reduce emissions and adopt green development plans with three main elements: planning and design, increasing the number of green open spaces, and empowering communities.

According to Budi Situmorang, the ministry’s deputy director of national spatial development planning, 60 cities will enact such plans in 2012 and 2013.

Experts warn however that continued reliance on private vehicles could create many ‘new Jakartas’ — cities with poor public transport systems and high levels of pollution.

Avoiding the Jakarta model

The number of cities in Indonesia is increasing — from 45 in 1970 to 98 by 2010 — and many aim to emulate the prosperity of the capital Jakarta.

But Jakarta itself is an inefficient city, from the way it consumes energy and water, to its unresolved waste management challenges.

Its transport system was developed independently of urban planning, and so people there rely heavily on private vehicles. Two-hour traffic jams are a daily occurrence.

Indonesia’s green city initiatives were developed so other cities would avoid the ‘Jakarta model’. As well as planting trees and creating new green spaces, the cities will improve waste management, increase efficiency in water and energy use, and integrate transportation systems into city planning.

But green transportation will not be planned until 2020, and only implemented five year later. Until then, the gap between urban planning and transport will remain.

Why the gap?

Asked why planning and transportation were not being integrated sooner, Budi Situmorang said: “We will not use the conventional transport that we see at the moment. Green transportation is not only a matter of energy efficiency, but of developing fossil fuels with lower emissions.”

His Ministry expects that within 13 years, the private sector will develop the low-emission fossil fuels or a green transportation system that can be adopted by Indonesian cities.

John Christensen, head of the UNEP Risoe Centre on Energy, Climate and Sustainable Development says that local governments should show political will to create low carbon cities by investing more in public transportation.

He warns that cities that fail to integrate urban planning and transportation systems will end up with public transport systems that cannot meet people’s needs for comfort and speed. In this situation, people eventually revert to using private vehicles and this, says Christensen, turns cities into major sources of greenhouse gases.

Stefan Schurig, climate and energy director for the World Future Council, agrees. He says that one of the most important ways to reduce emissions in cities is to think of new, creative ways to change consumption patterns of transportation.

Speaking last week at the UN climate change conference in Durban, he said that promoting public transportation is one way of doing it.

But, most importantly, he says, it is the local government’s political decision that has the ultimate power to determine how a city’s population will efficiently move from one place to another.



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