Youth Profile #7: Why Indonesia’s biodiversity is at the front line of the fight against climate change

By Tierney Smith 

Indonesia sits on both sides of the climate change debate.

It’s a poor country at risk from extreme weather events, and yet it is also one of the world’s worst emitters of greenhouse gases.

A 2007 World Bank report placed them third in emission levels behind China and the USA. This was largely down to deforestation, land degradation and forest fires.

The government is taking action – at least on paper.

They have climate targets aimed at cutting emissions by 41%, stemming deforestation. Increased renewable energy capacity, incentives for the low-carbon economy and a pledge to cut poverty levels by 50% are all key tools.

But it’s a difficult road to tread. In a country with the second largest forest cover worldwide and where 110 million people still live on less than $2 a day, the temptation to create more farmland by felling trees is acute.

Jakarta Skyline

The world's largest archipelago Indonesia is the third largest emitter globally (Source: smagdali/Creative Commons)

Many forest fires are started by local communities with the aim of providing space for crops and animals. So a major part of the challenge lies in confronting these attitudes and behaviour.

In the country’s capital city, Jakarta, a growing movement of youth aim to improve environmental education and transform the city to one with green space and biodiversity at its heart.

As part of RTCC’s student profiles I spoke to Putri Ayusha from Transformasi Hijau about the work young people are doing to encourage change in the city.

What is your group doing and what areas of work do you focus on?

My group is called Transformasi Hijau or trashi for short – in English you can call it Green Transformation.

Trashi is a volunteer based community that is focused on urban environmental education. Some of our concerns are about green open space, green transformation and biodiversity in our city Jakarta.

Our activities aim to engage and encourage young people to know more about biodiversity explore our green space and then conserve the remaining biodiversity in Jakarta. We have several activities, such as bird watching, clean up activities, recycling workshops and creative campaigning using social media and the Internet.

The main target of our activities is young people. In Jakarta young people are almost 30% of the population and if this number can work together as active agents for our environment we believe we can tackle the issues affecting us and our environment at large.

In addition we also promote youth education about Indonesian biodiversity as a whole from upstream, to downstream, from forests ecosystems to urban ecosystem, and costal and island ecosystems. This is one of our larger objectives.

What results have you seen from your work so far?

Since we were established in 2010 we have conducted numerous environmental activities and campaigns. We have promoted green lifestyles and stressed the importance of green open spaces to more than 1000 people in Jakarta and in Indonesia at large, both through online and offline campaigns.

As a voluntary based community and working in an urban area it was really great to see a response and the involvement from our public society. For example, our clean up activities – our trash buster activities. We have done around three or four of them since 2010, at the remaining mangrove forest in north Jakarta and every clean up has been even more popular.

This group is expected to guide young people – especially in Jakarta where it includes students and communities – to explore and complete learning activities in Mangrove forests. We have a guide book that was created by a young transformer as the result of their own activities exploring Jakarta’s green open spaces, particularly mangrove forests through bird watching activities, observation and also explorative learning.

The group work in north Jakarta's last remaining mangrove forest (Source: Transformasi Hijau)

We have also developed networks and partnerships with many existing community and youth groups as well as with donor agencies and the private sector, because we realised these two things – networking and partnership – were important to develop in order to reach our big goals together.

What are the challenges you have faced in your work?

Working in urban areas with its high heterogeneity (its high diversity of people) has already been a challenge for us. Promoting environmental issues to urban people needs creative and unique ways that can be accepted by them easily. We follow communication trends in our campaigns and have developed a social media campaigns strategy to attract these people so that they can join with our communities.

Since the introduction of the Internet and social media – for example facebook and Twitter – in Indonesia, the user-ship of the Internet in Indonesia is the biggest in the world and most of our Internet users are young people.

Working with young people is also challenging. Some of our volunteers are students therefore we have to adjust our activities to fit with their tight academic schedules and school support and permits can be difficult to get. Although education councils have endorsed some of our groups some schools don’t permit and allow their students to join our environmental activities out of their school schedule and curriculum.

The group works with young people and students across the city to explore the existing green spaces, such as mapping the city's mangrove forest (Source: Transformasi Hijau)

Becoming part of the process and the decision making with government is also one of our dreams. At this time we contribute indirectly by supporting other communities that have the same concerns and are working in this way.

What support have you seen for your activities?

A wide range of the public, civil society, governments, NGOs and other communities are always important to reach in addition to funding support. Our prior funding was supported by the Global Environment Facility and also from Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation and other private sector.

The mass media always support us by providing space to disseminate our environmental message to the public.

What are the impacts you are seeing in your country from climate change?

Indonesia is the most biodiverse country second to Brazil and yet deforestation, land degradation and forests fires have put Indonesia in the top three largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world.

At the same time Indonesia stands to experience significant losses because of climate change because we are an archipelagos Indonesia is very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Increased dryness, extreme weather, changing and heavy rainfall leading to big floods are a few examples of the impacts of climate change.

Indonesia’s biodiversity is also at risk. This may lead to harmful effects on agriculture, fisheries and forestry resulting in threats to food security and livelihoods.

In the agriculture systems – for example the rice fields in Java – the harvests have become irregular. Normally the harvests come two or three times a year but it depends on the weather. Now it has become unpredictable. Heavy rains have washed away many crops and caused major flooding. And in Jakarta itself many communities particularly in north of Jakarta, are hit by the floods due to the rising of sea levels.

I think the impacts of climate change seem like a never-ending story. We cannot stop climate change it is already happening but we can reduce the impact of climate change.

What would be your vision for 2050? What do you think needs to happen to get us there?

Some researchers say that it is estimated that in 2050 the north Jakarta will disappear – up to around 160 km of land or the equivalent of 24.3% of Jakarta. We don’t really want this to happen – no one does. So we work together with other communities to raise awareness, mobilise public support and get information and take action together.

The group has organised several clean up projects titled Trash Busters to reduce the waste in Jakarta (Source: Transformasi Hijau)

For our city Jakarta, one of our big dreams is a dream of more open space in Jakarta and also in other big cities in Indonesia. We want to see 30% of land as open space. In the current condition it is less than 10% open space. We want it so everyone can feel the fresh air and can use the green open space to interact with others and do outdoor activities like sport, environmental education and other activities.

Globally I would want to see collaboration and partnerships amongst youth communities, public society, government, private sector and mass media that would be developing rapidly for environmental sustainability. Then we can live in harmony with nature.

What would help your group move forward in your work?

I think collaboration with multi-stakeholders, public society, youth communities and NGOs will enable us to carry out and develop our activities. Now we are going to work on our bird conservation project with existing youth groups in Jakarta.

And also entrepreneurial thinking. Entrepreneurialism needs to be built as well to provide self-funding for our communities sustainability and currently we are building our capacity.

Why did you get involved in the group? What do you think is the role of the youth in the climate/environmental agenda?

I came to Jakarta in 2008 and I saw Jakarta hit by a huge flood, and huge amounts of waste right after the flood faded away and it irritated me when I saw the waste problem at our last mangrove forest of Jakarta.

Then I volunteered and worked with other volunteer communities to do something to reduce the environmental destruction as well as to raise awareness and promote a green lifestyle. Now I am focusing myself on environmental education with my special interest in youth leadership. I have been working with youth in many youth led activities and encouraging them to engage with the environment and take action.

Internationally I have been involved in the Earth Charter initiative since 2009 and I realised that we are not working alone and that there are so many existing youth groups worldwide that also take action for environmental sustainability and I am very happy to work with them. We have to collaborate to make a huge impact for our environment.

Youth are very crucial for working on climate and the environmental movement.

More Youth Profiles:

Profile #6 – Meet the African coalition that brings together 54 countries to tackle climate change

Profile #5 – Bangladeshi youth fight to give world’s second most climate vulnerable country a voice

Profile #4 – Nepal’s youth fight to save Himalayan paradise from effects of pollution and climate change


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