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A lead candidate for president of Indonesia could increase deforestation and coal use

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Indonesia, the world's third-biggest democracy, is heading to the polls tomorrow. This presidential election has potentially big stakes for the climate, as NPR's Julia Simon reports.

JULIA SIMON, BYLINE: In recent years, the biggest country in Southeast Asia has been heading in the wrong direction when it comes to planet-heating pollution. The reason, in large part, comes down to...

PUTRA ADHIGUNA: Nickel, one of Indonesia's prized resource.

SIMON: This is Putra Adhiguna, director of the Energy Shift Institute. Indonesia is the world's biggest nickel producer, a key metal for making steel and, more and more, solar panels and electric vehicle batteries. The problem is Indonesia is powering much of its growing nickel processing industry with new coal plants. That's at a time when most of the world is moving away from coal, says Lucy Hummer of Global Energy Monitor.

LUCY HUMMER: Indonesia is led only by China in newly operating coal power capacity in 2023.

SIMON: Experts worry one presidential candidate in particular could continue this upward trend of new coal. His name is Prabowo Subianto. The current minister of defense and front-runner has a dark past. He's the former head of special forces connected to numerous alleged human rights abuses. He owns a coal and energy business. Prabowo wants to increase the coal-powered nickel industry, says Adhiguna.

ADHIGUNA: The message is quite clear that Prabowo will be pushing hard to continue the nickel processing.

SIMON: Adhiguna notes the other candidates, particularly Anies Baswedan, have been more outspoken on the need to improve the nickel industry's environmental footprint. It isn't just coal plants that's a climate concern when it comes to Prabowo's policy proposals. Prabowo's campaigning on a project to build a lot more farms for food security. But this program has driven deforestation, says Fabby Tumiwa, executive director of the Institute for Essential Services Reform.

FABBY TUMIWA: We know it's quite problematic in Indonesia. We understand that it costs some deforestation in central Kalimantan and Papua.

SIMON: And Prabowo is focusing on bioenergy, using plants to make fuels. But planting lots of crops like palm oil for bioenergy can also drive deforestation. New surveys find young Indonesians care a lot about climate change. Experts worry none of the candidates are putting forward enough policy solutions necessary to meet the country's climate targets.

Julia Simon, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF LANTERNA'S "REDWOODS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Julia Simon
Julia Simon is the Climate Solutions reporter on NPR's Climate Desk. She covers the ways governments, businesses, scientists and everyday people are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She also works to hold corporations, and others, accountable for greenwashing.