This case was brought by thirteen children, youth, and members of vulnerable groups from different parts of Indonesia, all of whom allege that they are affected by the Indonesian Government’s response to climate change. The seven youth plaintiffs, aged 7-29, together with six adults whose involvement in agrarian and farming activities renders them particularly vulnerable, invoke their constitutitional rights to life, to live in physical and spiritual prosperity in a good and healthy environment, to self-development through the fulfillment of basic needs, to food and water, to education, to work and earn a decent living, as well as the minor plaintiffs’ rights as children. They brought their complaint to Indonesia’s National Commission of Human Rights, the counrty’s independent national human rights authority, calling on it to exercise its monitoring and mediating function.
The complaint in depth:
The plaintiffs in this case emphasize that the Indonesian government has recognized the country’s extreme vulnerablility to the impacts of climate change, including to sea level rise, heat waves, storm surges, tidal flooding, shifts in the wet and dry seasons, changes to rain patterns, decreased food production, disturbances in the availability of water, the spread of pests, plant and human diseases, the sinking of small islands, and the loss of biodiversity. They also emphasize that Indonesia is already experiencing many of these serious climate change impacts, and that these will only continue to get worse.
In their submissions to the National Commission of Human Rights, the plaintiffs particularly emphasize the effects of heat stress combined with Indonesia’s humid climate; the loss of food security and livelihoods in fishing and tourism due to coral bleaching and a decrease in fish stocks; unpredictable precipitation patterns and resulting drought, water insecurity and flooding; and the impacts of heat and precipitation changes on agriculture, food and water security, and plant diseases and pests. They also emphasize the risks associated with tidal floods, high waves, saltwater intrusion and strong winds due to sea level rise, which endanger lives and will cause a loss of living space, shelter, food and water insecurity. In this regard, they note research by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank that shows that, in a high emissions scenario, and without adaptation, more than 4,2 million Indonesians will be affected by permanent tidal flooding by 2070–2100. This same research shows that 5.5-8 million Indonesian people will be affected by flooding from once-in-a-century storm surges by 2030. In addition, they note that climate change causes a higher incidence of vector-borne diseases affecting children and vulnerable populations, such as malaria, dengue fever, and cholera. Several of the plaintiffs have suffered from these diseases already. Other impacts on the health of children include air pollution, malnutrition and stunting, drowning during floods, coastal flodding, and mental health impacts such as climate anxiety. Citing a study from the American Psychological Association, they argue that experiencing extreme weather events leads to higher rates of depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol use, domestic violence, and child abuse.
The plaintiffs emphasize that they have already experienced flooding, cyclones, extreme heat, vector-borne illness, climate anxiety, and impacts on their homes and agricultural or fishing livelihoods. They submit that the Government of Indonesia has a constitutional responsibility to protect them from the human rights impacts of the climate crisis, and allege that it has failed to do so by contributing to causing and exacerbating the climate crisis. Noting that Indonesia’s domestic law and its NDC under the Paris Agreement acknowledge the link between human rights and climate change, they submit that constitutional rights should be interpreted in harmony with international human rights law. This, they argue, means recognizing that Indonesia has obligations to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as cross-sectoral obligations to ensure that all climate adaptation and mitigation actions are inclusive, fair and participatory, and to prioritize the most affected and vulnerable populations.
The plaintiffs argue that the Indonesian government should prioritize mitigation through a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants and the licensing of palm oil plantation concesssions as well as by promoting sustainable polycultural and indigenous farming practices that will reduce its net GHG emissions and ensure crop resilience.
In terms of adaptation, the plaintiffs argue that Indonesia should ensure protection especially of those living in vulnerable areas, including small islands, riparian and lowland areas, coastal areas, and dry areas. This should take place through a community-oriented, inclusive and participative process, and should serve to upgrade infrastructure, provide social protection mechanisms, prioritize nature-based adaptation through ecosystem restoration, strengthen the resilience of food systems and ensure that adaptation does not take place at the expense of any vulnerable groups or future generations. In particular, they emphasize the rehabilitation of mangrove and coral ecosystems, given their function as natural flood and erosion protection; the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, and procedural obligations to ensure consultation, information, inclusivity and equity.
The plaintiffs note Indonesia’s knowledge of climate change, its commitment to the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree warming target under its Updated NDC, and its awareness of the risk of huge economic losses due to the dangers of climate change. Against this background, they argue that Indonesia has violated its human rights obligations by failing to mobilize the maximum available resources and take the highest possible level of ambition in mitigating its emissions, noting that it is one of the world’s largest emitters of land use change and energy emissions and the world’s seven largest emitter of cumulative emissions. They argue that, to align with the 1.5°C degree warming scenarios, Indonesia needs to limit its emissions from 660 to 687 million metric tons of CO2e by 2030. It is failing to do so, instead expanding its coal-fired power plant network and supporting ongoing deforestation.
The plaintiffs argue that these measures, i.e. the government’s failure to take adaptive steps, and its contribution to and exacerbation of climate change, have violated their right to a healthy environment, their right to health, their right to life and their rights to food and water. As concerns their right to development, the plaintiffs argue that “[t]he impact of climate change on the right to development has a ripple effect across all human rights”. They also link the government’s policies to impacts on their enjoyment on the right to education and the right to work and earn a decent living. Lastly, for the child applicants, they note risks for the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, access to education, proper food, proper housing, safe drinking water, and sanitation.
The Plaintiffs request that the Commission:
- State that climate change is a human rights crisis, and that each additional degree of heating will cause further impacts;
- State that climate change has disrupted their rights to a healthy environment, life, health, and development through the fulfillment of basic needs, food, water, education, and employment; that the child plaintiffs are particularly vulnerable in this regard; and that the Government has violated its obligation to respect, protect, uphold and fulfill the plaintiffs’ human rights;
- State that “the government has contributed to and continues to perpetuate the climate crisis by knowingly acting in disregard of the available scientific evidence on the necessary measures to mitigate climate change”, and that its actions — such as its approval of new coal-fired power plants, approval of large-scale deforestation and land clearing, and failure to implement basic adaptation measures — are an expression of this;
- Recommmend immediate review of law and policy to reduce GHG emissions, mobilize resources, and minimize losses;
- Recommend steps to reduce Indonesia’s national GHG emissions, including moratoria on new coal plants and on concessions for oil palm plantations, industrial forest plantations, and the clearing of peatlands; the promotion of sustainable and polycultural agricultural practices; and adaptation measures; and
- Recommend an inclusive, fair, open, and effective approach to public participation in climate-related decision-making.
Developments in the case:
The case is still pending. However, in receiving the case during a hearing held on 14 July 2022, two of the Commissioners heard directly from the plaintiffs and welcomed the petition. Commissioner Choirul Anam stated that “climate change is an enormous problem, which influences various human rights. It is our job to push for better government actions in responding to climate change.”
The text of the complaint in this case is available (in Bahasa and English) from ClimateCaseChart.com.
For a comment, see Margaretha Quina and Mae Manupipatpong, ‘Indonesian Human Rights Commission’s First Human Rights Complaint on the Impacts of Climate Change’, Climate Law Blog, 22 November 2022, available here.
National Commission of Human Rights of Indonesia, Indonesian Youths and others v. Indonesia, complaint filed on 14 July 2022.
8 August 2023.