Wary welcome for Indonesia’s ‘green port’ initiative to clean up shipping

  • Indonesia is launching a program to make the country’s ports more environmentally friendly in an effort to reduce its carbon emissions and protect the marine ecosystem.
  • The so-called green port initiative will encourage greater use of clean energy and strengthen environmental protection, a top official says.
  • Some marine observers in have welcomed the initiative, saying it’s a crucial step toward achieving Indonesia’s emissions reduction target.
  • But others say the green port initiative will serve to cover up the environmental impacts of the government’s port-building spree, and will benefit private investors over the general public.

JAKARTA — Indonesia is launching a program to make the country’s ports more environmentally friendly in an effort to reduce its carbon emissions and protect the marine ecosystem.

The so-called green port national initiative will focus on encouraging greater use of clean energy and strengthening environmental protection, according to Basilio Dias Araujo, the deputy for maritime and energy sovereignty at Indonesia’s coordinating ministry of maritime affairs and investment.

A new port under construction in Riau Islands province. Image by M. Ambari/Mongabay Indonesia.

Basilio said the program was part of the Southeast Asian country’s plans to achieve a 29% reduction in emissions by 2030, as committed to in the Paris Agreement. He added the initial efforts would include having port terminals for domestic and international vessels that use low-sulfur marine fuel oil, and setting up solar panels at ports.

“The Indonesian government is also going to switch from gasoline to natural gas for small boats,” Basilio said at a side event at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, last month.

Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelagic country, and has 2,459 ports, all of which will be subjected to the new “green port” standard, the government says. The country also occupies a key maritime position straddling the Indian and Pacific oceans, and is home to the Malacca, Sunda and Lombok straits, which together are plied by more than 200,000 cargo ships every year. Basilio said shipping activity in Indonesian waters contributes 19% of the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

The government has since 2019 tested its “green port” standard at 10 major ports. The criteria comply with standards prescribed by the Green Port Award System (GPAS), APEC Port System Network (APSN), and the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure (PIANC) at 10 major seaports in the country. It has also ratified Annex VI of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) which addresses air pollution from ocean-going vessels.

Marine observers in Indonesia have welcomed the green port initiative, calling it a crucial step toward addressing the global climate crisis. They also recommend the government produce a national road map detailing clear targets and strategies to decarbonize shipping activity.

“This road map will help ensure that the green port program not only is sustainable in the operational sense, but also supports the target of decarbonizing shipping and decarbonizing Indonesia in general,” Jeremia Humolong Prasetya, a researcher at the think tank Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI), told Mongabay in an interview.

Jeremia said the government could use the road map for green ports to encourage fellow G20 nations at the group’s upcoming summit in 2022, to be hosted in Bali, to partner with Indonesia in establishing global green shipping corridors and increasing investment in the country’s renewable energy sector.

“It will be very difficult [for Indonesia] to achieve the Paris Agreement targets without decarbonizing shipping,” Jeremia said.

Fishing boats docked at a port off Jakarta. Image by M. Ambari/Mongabay Indonesia.

The government must also ensure strict implementation and monitoring of the green port program to prevent it becoming simply a greenwashing exercise by the shipping industry, said M. Abdi Suhufan, the national coordinator of the NGO Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia.

“Many fisheries ports still don’t have WWTP [wastewater treatment plants], meanwhile the ones that do have, they’re in poor condition,” Abdi told Mongabay in an interview.

He said a key indicator of success for the green port program would be the recovery of Indonesia’s marine ecosystem and the sustainability of its fisheries.

But others have expressed concerned that the program is simply a cover-up for the environmental impacts caused by the government’s port-building spree, and that any benefits arising from it would go to private investors rather than the public.

“To us, it sounds absurd to talk about green ports for marine conservation if the materials, like the sand, are sourced from the destruction of other places,” Susan Herawati, secretary-general of the Coalition for Fisheries Justice (KIARA), an NGO, told Mongabay in an interview.

“We’re not necessarily anti-development, but don’t try to sell eco-friendly and sustainable issues for the sake of developing something that the public doesn’t really need or which isn’t oriented toward public welfare, but rather for the private sector,” she added.

Susan cited the case of the new port being built in Makassar, the largest city on the island of Sulawesi. That project involves land reclamation, for which sand is being dredged from the nearby Sangkarrang Islands. The dredging activity has disturbed traditional fishing areas and led to smaller catches and a loss of income for fishers, according to the community and environmental activists. The fishers have staged a series of protests, including blocking a dredging ship and staging an overnight demonstration outside the South Sulawesi provincial governor’s office.

For the green port initiative to be truly environmentally friendly and sustainable, Susan said, the government must uphold the interests of traditional and small fishers and coastal communities, especially women fishers and Indigenous coastal communities.

“I understand that this is part of achieving the SDGs” — Sustainable Development Goals — “but stop commodifying sustainable and eco-friendly labels when, in principle, it’s still robbing from others and still exacerbating the climate crisis, which will impact women fishers, aquaculture farmers, and coastal communities,” Susan said.

Plastic pollution is rampant in Indonesian ports. Image by Anton Wisuda/Mongabay Indonesia.

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