The right to clean air

The paper says clean and healthy air is the basic right of Jakarta citizens and whoever resides and makes a living in the capital city and the state simply has to uphold it.


Central Jakarta Water Management Agency employees plant floating trees in the Kebon Melati dam near Tanah Abang, Jakarta, on Oct. 26. The trees are intended to mitigate water and air pollution. PHOTO: ANTARA/THE JAKARTA POST

November 27, 2023

JAKARTA – Justice seems to have been served as the Supreme Court upheld last week the punishments handed down to the central government and Jakarta government for failing to cope with the air pollution that has been plaguing the city for years. However, justice will be denied if the government refuses to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling, which is final and binding.

To prove their commitment to the rule of law and responsibility to protect citizens, both the central government and Jakarta administration should take action to implement the Supreme Court’s orders. The longer the government buys time, the more people will get sick or even die because of the toxic air they breathe.

Challenging the court’s ruling through a case review will constitute the absence of wisdom and statesmanship on the part of the government officials and their lack of respect for human rights. Clean and healthy air is the basic right of Jakarta citizens and whoever resides and makes a living in the capital city and the state simply has to uphold it.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, his environment, health and home ministers and the acting Jakarta governor should never consider themselves the losers in the legal fight, because the individuals and civil society groups who filed the class action against them in 2021 as a last resort after their demand for solutions to the choking air pollution had been left unaddressed, if not ignored.

When the Jakarta District Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs over two years ago, the government chose to continue the unnecessary battle, instead of making amends for its failure to act to lower the pollution. The opportunity loss has only prolonged the suffering of many, some of them may have died.

Jakarta’s air has consistently ranked among the worst in the world. On Friday, for example, the city recorded an Air Quality Index (AQI) score of 174, 20 times above the World Health Organization’s minimum standard, placing it squarely in the “unhealthy” category, according to metrics measured by Swiss climate technology company IQAir.

The air quality has barely improved since the government beefed up measures to curb Jakarta’s chronic air pollution following incessant media reports of the city’s poor state of air a few months ago. The efforts included remote working for the city’s civil servants as mandated by acting governor Heru Budi Hartono. The Jakarta Police have also suggested enforcement of the odd-even license plate policy on motorcycles, with the number on the road having exceeded 17.3 million as of 2022 according to the National Police Traffic Directorate, on top of expanding the restriction of private cars.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya has recognized the great contribution of the transportation and industry sectors to Jakarta’s air crisis. Combustion engine vehicles have a share of 44 percent of the pollution, against 34 percent from the coal-fired power plants in and around Jakarta.

A 2020 report from the Center for Research and Energy and Clean Air (CREA) found air pollution from coal-fired power plants in Greater Jakarta was responsible for an estimated 2,500 premature deaths a year, and health problems such as immune, respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

The health agency in the Banten regency of Cilegon, which hosts the Suralaya coal power plant, reported 17,382 cases of upper tract respiratory infection between January and June of this year, with over 3,200 recorded in the area close to the power plant. Further studies will be needed to find out whether the outbreak of the respiratory disease had something to do with the operation of the power plant, but for sure gases emitted from such a plant, including nitrogen monoxide (NO), nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), endanger human health.

Now, with elections around the corner, hopefully the government feels more pressure to take all necessary measures to protect people’s right to healthy air, in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

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