Indonesia is Building a New Capital. Will It be a Model Amid Climate Change?

CEE Professor Auroop Ganguly and Chair Jerome Hajjar emphasize the importance of water management, sustainability, and potential challenges regarding the construction of Indonesia’s new capital city, Nusantara.

This article originally appeared on Northeastern Global News. It was published by Ian Thomsen. Main photo: The Indonesian capital is sinking—and the causes are complex. Photo by Afriadi Hikmal/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Jakarta, the Indonesia capital city of 30 million people, is sinking.

In the absence of effective remedies—including plans for a great sea wall that have been dismissed as ineffective—Indonesia President Joko Widodo has committed to building from scratch a replacement capital city 800 miles away on the large island of Borneo.

Will Indonesia’s mission to devise and construct a new green metropolis serve as a model for other coastal cities in the era of climate change?

Joko hopes by August 2024 to open the new capital, called Nusantara, around a base of government buildings powered largely by renewable energy.

“I think it will act as a pilot project,” says Gavin Shatkin, professor of public policy and architecture at Northeastern. “There are efforts afoot across Asia and elsewhere to develop more climate-friendly approaches to urban development.”

Initial plans to build a great seawall around Jakarta have been abandoned in part because climate change has not been the main driver of the city’s problems. As the city has grown, residents (including businesses) have extracted fresh water from private wells which—along with unregulated building—have caused the city to sink, says Shatkin, an urban planner who has researched Jakarta’s issues from the perspective of land rights.

Jakarta has been beset with flooding as well as wastewater issues.

“It’s a matter of total water management,” says Auroop Ganguly, a Northeastern distinguished professor of civil and environmental engineering who led a Northeastern Dialogue of Civilizations tour of students to Indonesia in 2017. “The river starts up in the hills and makes its way down to Jakarta.”

Though climate change “is probably one of the smaller factors” of Jakarta’s ongoing misery, says Ganguly, the creation of a new capital could serve as an example for other countries—especially those in emerging economies.

“I’m very hopeful about Indonesia,” says Ganguly, noting that plans are being laid for a progressive transit system that emphasizes public transportation and bicycling.

The nascent project has raised far more questions than can be answered for Indonesia, a nation of 280 million people spread across more than 17,000 islands. The first migration will be focused on moving government operations to Nusantara. But what will become of the 30 million Jakarta residents as well as the businesses that drive the Indonesian economy?

“The government is saying that it is going to invest substantial resources in mitigating flooding in Jakarta” even as it builds the new capital, Shatkin says. But he notes that even if the development meets its ambitious aspirations of more than 1 million residents, there will still be a vast population left in Jakarta.

Read full story at Northeastern Global News

Related Faculty: Auroop R. Ganguly, Jerome F. Hajjar

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering