Lack of Finance and Increased Frequency of Environmental Events Limits the Ability of Indigenous Peoples to Combat Climate Change in Indonesia

According to the International Work Group of Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), Indonesia has a population of 70 million indigenous people, which accounts for 18% of the total population. Although it has a wide variety of ethnic communities; around half of the population belongs to the Javanese and Sundanese groups from Java Island. Various other ethnic groups are spread across the western and eastern Indonesian Islands.  The indigenous populations from the western island can be classified into three groups based on their economic activities as follows: 1) inland wet rice cultivators from Java 2) coastal trading, farming, and fishing people such as the Malays of Sumatra, and 3) and the inland groups of shifting cultivators such as the Dayak communities of Borneo.

Similarly, eastern islands have two distinctive communities, those based near the coast and the ones living in the interior parts, practicing fishing and farming respectively. These indigenous communities are impacted by climate variability accelerated by climate change. Changing rainfall patterns, high ocean waves, and strong winds have disrupted fishing and agricultural activities. A 15% reduction in fish production is estimated due to rising sea temperatures which could adversely affect the survival of the coastal communities. Community-led protection of the marine ecosystem can help preserve the livelihood of people as well improve the catch per unit area of the target fish species. Governments can further support the communities by developing alternative livelihood programs apart from fishing and agriculture.

Furthermore, the northern coast of Java Island has experienced severe tidal flooding since 2016 due to land subsidence, abrasion, destruction of mangroves to build fish farms, nearby major construction, and climate change. According to a news report by Mongabay, dated August 2021, Indonesia has lost around 70% of its Mangroves. Mangrove clearance is now prohibited by the communities. Violators are required to pay a fine and plant 100 mangrove seedlings. The villagers have established ‘No fishing’ and ‘Limited fishing’ zones. Individual house owners by themselves have raised their houses and built boardwalks to access their homes in times of flood without the support of the Government. The funds for building common boardwalks were raised by the Sisterhood of Indonesian Fisherwomen (PPNI) and other fisheries associations. The Ministry of Maritime and Fisheries in collaboration with an NGO, Wetland International, has built a hybrid engineering structure that performs the role of mangroves by capturing sediments. However, more efforts are required on behalf of the government to help flood-affected coastal communities regain their livelihoods.  Identifying tidal flooding as a disaster in the Disaster Management Law will allow the communities to receive assistance from the Government.

Comparatively, forest-dependent inland indigenous communities from the West Kalimantan and Jambi Province have suffered the loss of livelihood, food, shelter, water, and culture owing to deforestation. Large palm oil plantations are responsible for deforestation and peatland ecosystem degradation. Weak laws, poor government oversight, and lack of human rights consideration by palm oil plantation companies have not only harmed indigenous communities but also exacerbated global climate change. According to Human Rights Watch Report, Indonesia lost 24 million hectares of forest cover from 2001 to 2017. Land use emissions from agriculture, deforestation, and degraded peatlands account for about a quarter of all global emissions, as reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Water from peatlands under the forests is drained for palm oil plantations creating conditions drier than usual, resulting in forest fires. The 2015 Indonesian forest fire that made the country the fourth largest global greenhouse gas emitter. This is evidence of the large-scale forest and peatlands clearance activities undertaken in the country. The forest fires have harmed Orangutan populations, burned down houses, caused death and displacement of the Orang Rimba tribe, and triggered respiratory illnesses within the surrounding indigenous communities.

A moratorium on new permits for palm oil plantations was passed by the President in 2018 to address deforestation, land conflicts, and labor abuse. However, the ban on new palm oil concessions expired in September 2021, stirring up the fear of forest fires and displacement of indigenous communities. Alternatively, the national action plan on sustainable palm oil signed in 2019, active until 2024, is another initiative that can help regulate the palm oil industry. Some of the key points discussed in the action plan are transparency of data, increasing smallholder capacity, better environmental management, and resolution of land conflicts. Communities are also using GPS technologies to demarcate the boundaries of their ancestral land to inform the government about their presence and will to protect their lands. Moreover, community organizations such as The Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN) have been advocating for preserving indigenous land rights along with other subsistence issues faced by these groups.

Indigenous communities are the best protectors of natural areas as their survival depends on these areas. The involvement of these communities in efforts to combat climate change is necessary for the success of climate policies and programs. Agroforestry programs, climate-smart agricultural practices, and reforestation drives carried out with the involvement of local communities can help conserve forest biodiversity, maintain water supplies, and protect indigenous community health. An NGO, Planet Indonesia, is working with the indigenous Dayak community and the local government to co-manage forest reserves. The efforts have resulted in a 77% reduction in forest loss. A research study conducted in 2020 by the author Haterd, indicates that the coping mechanism of Indigenous communities is short due to financial limitations and the increased frequency and intensity of environmental events

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Indonesia Country Manager Netra Naik

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