Indonesia’s Vote: Three Takeaways for Climate Change

Coal, nickel, palm oil, rainforests.

The riches of Indonesia matter to the rest of the world. Therefore, so does its presidential election.

Early results on Wednesday in the world’s third-largest democracy signaled the victory of Prabowo Subianto, a former army general linked to human rights abuses, as the country’s next president. The new government’s approach on the management of its natural resources could have a significant effect on the world’s ability to keep global warming to relatively safe levels.

Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel and something that the world must quickly stop burning in order to avoid the worst consequences of global warming. But Indonesia also has huge reserves of nickel, which is critical to battery-making and the transition to cleaner energy.

Prabowo Subianto at a campaign stop in Bali this month.Credit…Made Nagi/EPA, via Shutterstock

Mr. Prabowom has said that he supports transitioning the country away from coal power, though gradually. He also supports a ban on exports of raw nickel, designed to encourage a homegrown battery-making industry, that has been in place for several years.

Those two initiatives clash.

Processing nickel requires vast amounts of energy. So, Indonesia has been on a binge of building new coal-burning power plants. That, in turn, has driven up Indonesia’s emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases.

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