Ecocide Threat in Jakarta

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaThe large scale cutting down of trees in Jakarta must be stopped. Economic development needs an ecological perspective.

    THE Jakarta provincial government acted arbitrarily by cutting down hundreds of trees to the south of the National Monument Park using the excuse that it was to revitalize the area. A capital city development project that does not have an ecological perspective could threaten the lives of its citizens.

    It is fair to suspect that the Jakarta provincial government was hasty when it carried out renovations in Medan Merdeka to prepare it for the Formula E electric car race in July. It has recently come to light that the trees were cut down without permission from the Medan Merdeka Area Development Steering Committee – a body which is led by the state secretary. The Jakarta administration also failed to obtain a recommendation from the heritage preservation expert team.

    Cutting down hundreds of trees in a place that should be an open green area is no simple matter. The trees, which were decades old, were vital for a city with worsening air pollution like Jakarta. A 10-year-old hardwood tree can improve the quality of the air by absorbing 22 kilograms of carbon dioxide per year. And trees of this age produce on average 118 kilograms of oxygen per year. Simply replacing the trees that were cut down with new trees will not resolve the problem. A long time will be needed to restore the ecological function of the trees that have now been felled.

    Unfortunately, in this nation conservation of trees and the environment as a whole is still poor. In Jakarta, a ban on cutting down trees was only inserted in Bylaw No. 8/2017 on public order. This regulation threatens anyone who cuts down a tree without a permit with a jail term of up to 180 days or a fine of Rp5 million. But this regulation has not been implemented consistently.

    The ban on cutting down trees in the capital has only affected ordinary citizens too lazy to apply for a permit, while the felling of trees by the administration falls outside the provisions of this regulation. As a result, there has been repeated widescale cutting down of trees.

    Outside Jakarta, there are bylaws that protect trees and plants in Malang Regency and the city of Surabaya, both in East Java. However, yet again these laws do not specifically protect older trees. Trees are allowed to be felled as long as a greater number of trees is planted in their place.

    As a result, without regulations that have an ecological perspective, it is difficult to fight the trend of cutting down trees and shrinking green spaces in cities. In 2013 for example, 1,260 trees were felled to make way for a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line in Jakarta. In 2017, 2,551 trees were cut down for the light rail project. A year later, 451 trees were felled to make room for the widening of the sidewalks on Jalan Sudirman and M.H. Thamrin. From governor to governor, the city’s trees have always done badly.

    On the international level, the movement to criminalize environmental damage is more advanced. Since 1996, American botanist Arthur W. Galston has insisted on using the term ecocide to highlight wrongdoing in the form of structural, systematic and massive environmental destruction. Since 2010, Scottish lawyer Polly Higgins has campaigned for ecocide to be added to the list of crimes against humanity that can be tried at the International Court of Justice.

    This means that the notion that economic development cannot destroy nature has been widely accepted around the world. It will feel very strange and Indonesia will be left behind if the paradigm of policymakers here does not adapt. A change in the way of thinking must be shown in the simplest way: no more tree felling for economic development.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine