Can sustainable cities coexist with nature? The Nusantara example - Hindustan Times

Can sustainable cities coexist with nature? The Nusantara example

BySriparna Pathak
Apr 24, 2024 01:00 PM IST

This article is authored by Sriparna Pathak.

Cities and urbanisation often get trapped in the double whammy of adding to climate change adversities and shouldering urbanisation and industrialisation. Addressing industrialisation, which in turn addresses several questions around employment generation is a key challenge for countries of the Global South in particular, a host of which were deprived of the opportunities to industrialise at the same time as countries of the Global North, simply because they were colonised and were bearing the brunt of the industrialisation of the colonisers at their expense! However, carbon emissions from factories in cities as they industrialise; has far reaching consequences beyond geographical boundaries. Addressing the double whammy requires cities to come up with strong plans to contribute more to achieving net zero goals. In this context, it becomes important to explore the case study of Indonesia’s Nusantara city, which is scheduled to operationalised this year in 2024.

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo. (Photo by Adek BERRY / AFP)(AFP) PREMIUM
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo. (Photo by Adek BERRY / AFP)(AFP)

Indonesia seeks to relocate its capital from Jakarta to Nusantara, which is also a planned green and sustainable city. Jakarta suffers from problems of flooding, land subsidence, overpopulation and congestion. 60% of the country’s population, close to 280 million people currently live in Java where Jakarta is located. Nusantara, located on the island of Borneo is seen as having the ability to rebalance Indonesia’s economy and in redistributing economic growth outside Java. It is also being designed as a carbon-neutral and sustainable city. It aims at a development agenda with big data and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, which add to the prospect of building models of smart sustainable cities. Nusantara has been conceived on a grand scale and the new capital will be three and a half times that of Singapore and four times larger than Jakarta. The first residents- construction workers, defense personnel and civil servants are to start moving in by the end of this year. The city is to be finally completed in 2045, which is also Indonesia’s centennial year, and it is projected that 1.9 million people will live there.

However, the shift to the new capital is not going to be easy and questions around lost homes, lost traditions and lost habitat have already started emerging. Indonesia’s plans to build its new capital in eastern Borneo has sparked concerns among environmental and human rights observers, about the larger socio-ecological impacts to the rest of the island. While the administration of President Joko Widodo had made promises of green and sustainable development, minimal forest clearance and respect for indigenous and local communities’ rights along with a net zero carbon emissions design. However, fears still remain among local communities. Reportedly, mangroves and high conservation areas have been cleared, along with land conflicts with indigenous communities. Large scale displacements have also taken place leading to questions emerging on whether the $34 billion project’s benefits can outweigh its downsides.

Even though there are plans for developing sustainable renewable energy sources, concerns have been raised about how sustainable some of them are in reality. An example of this is how there are plans for electricity to be generated from hydropower, but the $18 billion Kayan Hydro Power Plant is being developed by the contractors of the Three Gorges Dam in China, which has been extremely controversial. The Three Gorges Dam has led to the displacement of at least 1.3 million people in China and the destruction of natural features and countless rare architectural and archaeological sites. The site of development of the Kayan Hydropower Plant is in Borneo which is an informal conservation area and an orangutan habitat.

The double whammy of not adding to perils of climate change while fostering economic development becomes clear in the case of Nusantara. However, to reduce the double whammy, the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry stated that the urban planners of Nusantara have studied other planned capitals of Brasilia, Canberaa and Malaysia’s administrative centre of Putrajaya to learn from past mistakes. Nusantara has to address three critical factors to ensure it prospers- those of livability, adequate infrastructure and a thriving economic environment, while ensuring sustainable organic growth. While the perils of displacement and ecological hazards remain, planning a new city also comes with opportunities to bring together various elements of transport, electric vehicles, energy and roads to explore how sustainable development can actually lead to a better quality of life for the people. Navigating the double whammy is always going to be a challenge for any new city, especially for a new capital city. However, if the vision set in place and the execution of the final plans in tandem, then newer opportunities emerge. The other option to Nusantara is to continue to have the capital city in Jakarta, which is already overpopulated, congested and reaching the limits to which it can support economic development- the necessity for any state in the current international system, and definitely for one from the Global South.

This article is authored by Sriparna Pathak, associate professor, Chinese Studies and International Relations, Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat,

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