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Environment

Indonesia Is Moving Its Capital to Avoid Sinking Into the Ocean

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Megacities around the world are being forced to contend with rising sea levels, extreme storms, and sinking infrastructure. By 2100, billions of people could be displaced by climate change unless governments meaningfully address the environmental crisis. You can join us by taking action on this issue here.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo announced on Monday that the government will begin relocating its capital from Jakarta to eastern Borneo to avoid unmanageable and rapidly escalating environmental problems, according to CNN.

The new location will be hundreds of miles to the northeast in the East Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo, a region of dense jungle that will have to be cleared to accommodate potentially millions of people and massive industrial activity.

The administration of President Joko Widodo, widely known throughout the country as Jokowi, chose the new location partly because it’s less vulnerable to natural disasters, he said in a statement.

"As a large nation that has been independent for 74 years, Indonesia has never chosen its own capital," Jokowi said in a televised speech, CNN notes. "The burden Jakarta is holding right now is too heavy as the center of governance, business, finance, trade, and services."

Moving the capital will take around 10 years and could cost an estimated $34 billion, financed through a public-private partnership. Failing to take action, however, would likely cost the country far more over the next several decades, NPR reports.  

In recent years, overcrowding, poor urban planning, and rising sea levels have turned Jakarta into bureaucratic quicksand — the faltering landscape swallows all expenditures meant to ensure it stays a viable place to live in the future. 

The city’s ever-swelling population now totals more than 10 million, with an additional 20 million people in the surrounding metropolis. The surging population has strained the city’s resources and made everyday life difficult.

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Groundwater supplies have been so overdrawn that parts of the city are now sinking into the hollowed out ground. Air pollution has reached new heights, and plastic pollution fills the city’s landfills and waterways. Overcrowding has made road traffic some of the worst in the world, and spurs the expansion of slums that have little access to quality water and sanitation. 

Jakarta has also become an early case study in how climate change can destabilize a coastal city. Scientists predict that rising sea levels and coastal erosion will submerge 95% of North Jakarta by 2050. 

Globally, more than 2 billion people could be displaced by climate change by the end of the century. 

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Many citizens worry that, in addition to becoming the new capital, eastern Borneo will become a site of rampant deforestation and ecosystem destruction. In recent years, large parts of Borneo, which is home to one of the largest rainforests in the world, have been razed by industrial interests. These extractive efforts could increase as the relocation begins.

"I hope the city will develop and the education will become as good as in Jakarta," one high school student told the BBC in April. "But all the land and forest that's empty space now will be used. Kalimantan [the Indonesian portion of Borneo] is the lungs of the world, and I am worried we will lose the forest we have left."