Poor Jakartans are at risk of becoming climate refugees, why are they still living there?


The dream of relocating the capital from Jakarta to Borneo is almost a reality. Despite many pros and cons that have occurred since the idea of relocation was raised, the establishment of capital relocation is now nearing completion. All infrastructure and official buildings have been constructed, indicating that progress has been made. According to PWC and the Indonesian Ministry of National Development Planning, the progress of new capital relocation has reached 27 percent until May 2023, which includes the construction of basic infrastructure such as roads, government buildings, housing, reservoirs for clean water sources, and sanitation.

Along with the establishment of infrastructure in Borneo, environmentalists have raised a critical question: does the capital relocation serve only to fulfill the Indonesian government’s dream, or will it be the right solution to avoiding the massive climate change that is sinking Jakarta and rescuing poor Jakartans who are having high potential to become climate refugees? Many policymakers then leave this question unanswered. Moving the capital is an undeniably good idea, but it leaves a lot of work for urban planners, environmentalists, as well as decision-makers.

Jakartans as climate refugees

Climate refugees and their existence are one of the unfinished discussions about relocating capital that policymakers continue to ignore. Climate refugees are people who have been forced to migrate due to climate change, and they are frequently victims and forgotten in development planning agendas. Human activities like burning fossil fuels and logging forests, as we all know, contribute to global warming by emitting greenhouse gases. Heat is trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases. As temperatures rise due to global warming, glaciers and ice caps melt. This can result in flooding and raise sea levels. Rising temperatures also cause droughts and desertification, which is the conversion of arable land to desert. Some of these effects, such as sea level rise, have the potential to completely submerge land, rendering it uninhabitable. Drought and flood, for example, make it impossible for residents of the region to support themselves. All of these disasters or climate and weather events could result in a large number of climate refugees.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), sea levels will rise by 0.18 to 0.6 meters (seven inches to two feet) between 1990 and 2100. Rising sea levels are already causing issues in low-lying coastal areas around the world. Jakarta, one of Southeast Asia’s fastest-sinking capitals, is expected to be drowned by more than 95 percent by 2050. Even though many studies have shown that Jakarta is no longer a safe place to live, many people continue to live there and are hesitant to relocate. According to the author’s preliminary research, there are several reasons why Jakartans continue to choose to live there. Numerous factors, such as jobs, families, and involvement in socio-cultural life, influence Jakartans’ decision to still live in the sinking city. Based on the author’s in-depth interview with some people in North Jakarta who have always experienced tidal floods, they expressed skepticism about being included in the capital relocation planning and continued to ask about the government’s concern about climate change impacts on them. Other Jakartans have also thrown a similar statement, they have mentioned that they have grown accustomed to the city’s congestion and hustle and that they have a strong bond with it.

When discussing future opportunities in a new capital, the majority of Jakartans are hesitant to move because they need time to adapt to a new environment and socio-cultural life in Kalimantan, and thus the process of adapting in a new capital would come at a “very high cost” that the Indonesian government could not compensate for, such as; social interaction and cohesion that has been established for years, personal and communal resilient that have been built, also moving to new capital means they have to think about new job opportunity, new education for the children and so on. Breaking down some of the reasons made by Jakartans, the authors then tried to classify them as three major reasons; firstly, Jakarta is still regarded as a ‘promising land’, where they can find work and earn a living. At the same time, they are perplexed about starting a new life in a new capital because there is no guarantee of job opportunities. Secondly, they believe that those who will be relocated to Kalimantan’s new capital are those who work for the government, and thus they do not need to migrate as members of the ‘common society’. Thirdly, there is still massive infrastructure development in Jakarta, such as highways, shopping arcades and even housing, giving them the impression that Jakarta is still growing. Despite the fact that they may be victims of environmental degradation or climate refugees, Jakartans are fearless and continue to live in Jakarta.

In addressing all of these challenges, the Indonesian government may not have to compel Jakartans to relocate, but may have to consider investing in existing capitals by improving infrastructure to make them more climate resilient and liveable for Jakartans.

Lengga Pradipta
Lengga Pradipta
A human ecology researcher in Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). Having interests on environmental justice, natural resources management and gender issue.


Accelerating Renewable Energy Development in Indonesia

Climate change is growing and developing into a...

Canada Lifts Sanctions Against Businessman Oleg Boyko

The Government of Canada has officially removed international businessman...

UNDP launches plan to boost carbon markets

UN Development Programme launches plan to boost integrity in...