COP26 Cop-Out? Indonesia’s Clean Energy Pledge Keeps Coal Front And Center

JAKARTA — Indonesia has signed another seemingly landmark pledge at the COP26 climate summit underway in Glasgow, this time to phase out its use of coal, the dominant source in its energy mix, by the 2040s.

But as with the first pledge it made at COP26 — to end deforestation by 2030, which it then immediately backpedaled from — the details of the coal pledge suggest no actual intent on moving away from the highly polluting fossil fuel in real terms, activists say.

The headline figure that Indonesia is touting under this new agreement on a clean energy transition, signed Nov. 4 by 23 countries, is the retirement of 9.2 gigawatts of coal-fired power plants by 2030. This represents a quarter of its total generating capacity from coal, and is more ambitious than its initial plan to decommission 1.1 GW of coal power by 2030.

But such a reduction is meaningless when the country is building or planning to build 13.8 GW of new coal plants during this same period, says Adila Isfandiari, a senior climate and energy researcher at Greenpeace Indonesia.

“So it’s useless if we decommission 9.2 gigawatts of coal but then build 13.8 gigawatts of new coal,” Adila told Mongabay. “We won’t be able to increase the capacity of renewable because the space [for new energy] has already been occupied by these new coal plants.”

The new coal plants are prescribed in the government’s most recent 10-year electricity procurement plan, also known as the RUPTL. They would make up a third of electricity generation expected to be added to the country’s grid by 2030, and would produce 83 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year, according to Greenpeace Indonesia — the equivalent of 40 million cars.

Adila said this makes it even harder for Indonesia to meet its Paris Agreement commitment to reduce emissions from the energy sector by 314 million tons.

“Instead of reducing emissions, the government wants to add 83 million tons of CO2 from the new coal plants,” she said.

Indonesia has also made clear it’s not committing to the entirety of the pledge it just signed in Glasgow. Among the clauses that it refused to sign is one that would have obliged it to “cease issuance of new permits for unabated coal-fired power generation projects, cease new construction of unabated coal-fired power generation projects and to end new direct government support for unabated international coal-fired power generation.”

In other words, Adila said, Indonesia is not promising to stop building new coal plants — a critical step in consigning coal to history.

“These announcements [at COP26] are not a game-changer yet,” she said. “As long as we keep building new coal plants, we will be stuck with coal.”

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