The capital city of the Southeast Asian country Indonesia has always been Jakarta, but this general knowledge may not last for long. Home to the infamous Durian fruits and hectic traffic, Jakarta has been suffering from rising sea water surrounding its capital territories. Because such unfortunate consequences of climate change are directly affecting his capital, the President of Indonesia, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, has finally reached a decision to announce a new capital for the people.
The new capital of Indonesia will be located in East Kalimantan, a province closer to the center of the country that covers the Kutai Kartanegara and Penajam Paser regencies on the island of Borneo. Talks about Indonesia’s capital relocation have been brought up in past administrations, but President Widodo officialized the relocation through a press conference on August 26. An anonymous Korean press representative in Indonesia shared through the South Korean news and media outlet Yonhap Television News (YTN) that Widodo’s decision probably “could not be delayed longer, as Indonesia needs to focus on joining the ranks of advanced countries [soon].”
Besides becoming one of the more developed countries, though, Indonesia’s new capital aims to solve more urgent matters on their hands. Jakarta is known as one of the busiest and most traffic- congested cities in the world. Around ten million citizens live and commute in and out of the capital alone, which is slightly larger than the area of Seoul, South Korea. But more importantly, Indonesia is one of the fastest-sinking cities in the world according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), due to globally rising sea levels as well as a serious regional issue of over-extracting groundwater.
Creating New Waves for Indonesia
Citizens of Indonesia are worrying that the current capital city of Jakarta holds too many citizens to move to anywhere else. The Guardian continues by stating that “the majority of its nearly ten million residents would stay.” Moreover, The Conversation reports that the budget is estimated to be 33 billion U.S. dollars, or around 18 percent of Indonesia’s 178 billion dollars state budget.” Professor Cuz Potter (Division of International Studies) expresses a similar concern that the new capital might “Provide income mainly for large Indonesian real estate firms and housing for the middle- and upper-class housing, while ignoring the needs of the poor.”
Additionally, as with most site development projects, the Borneo Island is bound to face deforestation and the loss of their natural habitats of orangutans. Professor Potter states, “The spread of cities encroaches upon the habitats of flora and fauna, threatening their livelihoods and in some cases leading to extinction.” But he continues that the relocation may bring positive externalities as well, as the air transportation industry will flourish with the frequent business travels between Jakarta and the new capital.
Similar to South Korea’s Sejong City, the new capital will be in charge of the administrative part of the capital only, with Jakarta continuing its history as the nation’s commercial and financial hub. The government plans to provide new homes and offices for almost two million government workers that will be transferred. But the most anticipated outturn is that the new capital hopes to be problem-free from subsidence. Most of the drinking water in Indonesia is extracted from right below the land, which leads to the inevitable and horrifying effects of a sinking city. The rising sea levels worsened this issue, but Professor Potter believes that the new capital may partly act as a solution for the two water-catastrophes.
Beyond Indonesia’s Problem
Such phenomenon of abnormally rising sea levels is not exclusive to Indonesia. Joongang Tongyang Broadcasting Company (JTBC) reported that the global sea levels will increase by 238cm at most by the year 2100. This estimate is around 2.4 times more than the prediction made six years ago. The terrifying phenomenon is now pressuring governments all around the globe to prepare counteractions. But the effects are projected to be more severe for certain countries.
According to The Bangkok Post, “Of the 10 major cities most threatened by rising ocean levels, seven are in Asia.” These low-lying countries will be more vulnerable to climate change, and their limited budget and resources are worrisome. But countries in Southeast Asia are heading in the right direction, with Singapore “Embarking on a 100-year, 100 billion Singapore dollars infrastructure investment plan to fight rising seas,” as The Economist shares. Le Van Trung, vice-president of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City Geomatics Association, has also conducted studies on the city’s sinking rate and realized the importance of action to combat the subsidence.
▲ Professor Cuz Potter, Provided by Professor Cuz Potter
The Direction for South Korea
While the policies of Indonesia and Singapore seem distant, South Korea is on the radar as well when considering the future of our country, just as Prime Minister Lee is doing in Singapore. Professor Potter asserts that whether urban planning is “desirable or not, it is essential” for countries to prepare for the warmer weather. The Korean Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries recognizes such urgency and plans to ensure a safe coexistence of coastal areas and people. Specific plans include establishing scientific countermeasures and establishing a foundation for sustainable growth based on systematic coastal erosion management.
In the case of South Korea, former United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon claimed that the city of Incheon may be submerged underwater by as early as the next century. The 11th Vice Minister of The South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy Woo Tae-hee agreed with Ban and suggested a change in the way we approach climate change solutions. “Efforts should be made to minimize unexpected damage by adapting well to climate change.” In addition, Woo believes developing countries should especially invest more in such preparations to prevent floods, heat waves and other harsh disasters.
Our society has been cognizant of the detrimental effects of climate change since the early 1900s, but our efforts to prevent it from hurting our planet is seem insufficient. Greenhouse gas emissions have reached a record high of 37 billion tons just last year, and these figures have acted as a long overdue presage for the global community. Now, our remaining tasks are to work together to prevent sea levels from rising, or efficiently and effectively adapt to the changing climate. South Korea will also need to think ahead in these terms and strengthen our policies in preparing for a changing planet.