Landmark Indonesia court ruling upholds citizens’ right to clean air, finds president and top officials ‘negligent’

·2-min read
File: A heron bird perches as smog covers high-rise buildings on the northern coast of Jakarta, Indonesia (Reuters)
File: A heron bird perches as smog covers high-rise buildings on the northern coast of Jakarta, Indonesia (Reuters)

An Indonesian court has ruled that the country’s president Joko Widodo and other federal officers are guilty of environmental negligence for failing to tackle chronic air pollution.

The civil lawsuit was filed by 32 citizens against the president, the ministers of health, environment and home affairs and other prominent local leaders in 2019. It sought action from the Indonesian government to combat crippling air pollution in the capital city of Jakarta and its surrounding areas, where more than 30 million people live.

Jakarta is the ninth-worst capital city in terms of air pollutant PM 2.5 — a fine particulate matter that is dangerous to human health at high levels — according to IQAir’s World Air Quality 2020 report. It is also has the worst air pollution in Southeast Asia.

Rapid urbanisation and chronic traffic in Jakarta, along with nearby coal-fired power plants, have contributed to the poor air quality, according to the Center on Energy and Clean Air.

Plaintiffs in the case argued in court that the administration was negligent by failing to protect its citizens. They pointed out that scientific research shows air pollution can cause asthma, heart disease and reduce life expectancy.

After hearing the last-ditch effort by citizens to hold government officials to account, the Jakarta court ruled that Indonesian government officials had contravened the law.

The court ordered Mr Widodo’s government to establish national ambient air quality standards to protect human health and devise strategies to bring air pollution under control.

Lawyers representing the defendants celebrated the court’s ruling. “We appreciate the verdict, and we are satisfied,” Ayu Eza Tiara, a lawyer of the plaintiffs, told Reuters.

The court did not classify the administration’s actions as a violation of human rights but asked it to take other measures, including an analysis of cross-border emissions and periodic testing of older vehicles.

Responding to the court’s ruling, the president’s spokesperson Fadjroel Rahman said the environmental minister would take decisions on further action.

It is unclear if the ruling administration will appeal the decision in court.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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