Trees, lawyers, and an Indonesian island’s fight against climate crisis

By Steven Handoko

Pari, Indonesia, Aug 16 (EFE).- Fisherman Edi Mulyono plants mangroves to stop the disappearance of his small island due to the sea level rise from the climate crisis in Indonesia, an environmental fight that has also led him to litigate against construction giant Holcim in Swiss courts.

Wearing a T-shirt with the logo of the NGO Lindungi Hutan (“Save the Forest” in Indonesian), Edi descends on a Saturday morning to a beach on the eastern side of the island of Pari, in danger of disappearing due to rising sea levels due to global warming.

About 30 volunteers, employees of a bank in Jakarta, about 56 kilometers from the island, are waiting for him to plant mangrove trees in an activity that helps defend the Pari coast from maritime erosion.

“It is very worrying when our children see the water entering their houses. They cannot sleep in their houses and have to be evacuated. This surely affects them psychologically. When the tide comes, where can they run? Because we live on a small island, we are surrounded by water,” Edi said in an interview with EFE

A tourist destination for its white sand beaches and blue waters, Pari, located in the Java Sea, has about 1,000 inhabitants, mostly fishermen, and belongs to the Thousand Islands archipelago, which in 2019 received about 500,000 tourists.

The archipelago has suffered from a drop in tourism due to Covid-19 restrictions, but its most serious problem is coastal erosion due to saltwater floods that have become recurrent in recent years..

Edi also claims that due to climate change, it is no longer possible to predict monsoon patterns, which causes a drop in catch every time they go out to sea.

Arif, who works as a mechanic, said that in a flood of up to 25 centimeters due to the tides, a phenomenon related to climate change, many of the motorcycles in his workshop were damaged.

Floods also cause salinization of freshwater reserves, making everyday tasks such as drinking or showering difficult.

“We spend between 50,000 and 100,000 rupees (between $ 3.39 and $ 6.77) on water just for a shower,” said Arif on a beach where land lost to sea erosion is visible.

In July, Edi, Arif and two other residents of Pari went a step further to protect the island and launched a lawsuit in Switzerland against construction company Holcim, from which they ask for compensation of CHF 14,400 (about $15,200) for weather damage.

The Indonesians enlisted the help of the Swiss NGO HEKS-EPER and the Indonesian NGO WALHI to present their case to the Swiss canton of Zug, where Holcim’s headquarters are located.

According to HEKS-EPER, the compensation has been calculated taking into account that the construction company is responsible for 0.42 percent of global CO2 emissions since 1950.

The plaintiffs also demand that the company “immediately and significantly” reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 43 percent by 2030 and 69 percent by 2040, as well as funding for “urgent” measures against flooding and degradation of corals due to rising sea levels and global warming.

The case is in the conciliation process with a hearing scheduled for September or October, but it will be brought before a civil court if the parties do not reach an agreement.

Holcim, the world’s largest cement producer, although it is present in Indonesia, does not operate directly on the island of Pari, which does not prevent, according to the plaintiffs, the island town from suffering the “indirect” effects of environmental collapse.

The plaintiffs “claim, among other things, that the rise in sea level and the increase (in intensity and frequency) of floods have affected their way of life, their right to life and their right to physical integrity,” said Lorenz Kummer, head of HEKS-EPER, in an email to EFE.

Kummer said similar arguments are used in Pari to those presented in 2021 against the oil company Shell, which a British judge forced to reduce its emissions by 45 percent in 2030, compared to 2019. It’s also the same as the litigation of Peruvian Saul Luciano Lliuya against German energy company RWE for the threat of its emissions due to the melting of the Andes.

“This is not just about my way of life. It is also about my survival. Worry overwhelms us every time the floods come,” said Arif, when asked about the process in Switzerland. EFE

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