Indonesia’s air quality: Decline in 2023 due to lack of intervention and El Niño. What about 2024? 

🇮🇩 Versi Bahasa Indonesia tersedia di bawah

In 2023, there was an overall decline in air quality across Indonesia, particularly in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia located on the island of Java, and a number of major cities on the island of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Aside from the typical urban anthropogenic sources, namely transportation, industrial, power generation, open burning, residential, among others, the return of El Niño in 2023 brought a drier-than-normal dry season which resulted in elevated levels of air pollution due to low rainfall and higher risk of forest and land fires.

New data published by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) reveals that the overall 2023 air pollution levels in Jakarta were arguably the worst since 2019. Despite improvements between 2020 and 2022, the rise of pollution in 2023 is a notable setback. Over 29 million people residing in the Jakarta Metropolitan Area were exposed to unhealthy levels, for over half of last year. PM2.5 concentration stayed in the ‘unhealthy’ range from June to the end of the year, equivalent to 8 to 10 times the 2021 World Health Organization (WHO) Air Quality Guideline

Thermal anomalies in fire-prone regions rose significantly in 2023, reaching over half the 2019 record in Kalimantan, and one third in Sumatra. Air quality of the analysed cities in Kalimantan and Sumatra was severely affected by the fires occurring in the respective nearby regions. Levels rapidly increased with higher hotspot counts, reaching very unhealthy levels in a matter of a few days or immediately. Citizens living in the Sumatra and Kalimantan cities that were studied in this analysis, as well as in Jakarta and nearby cities, were exposed to unhealthy and hazardous PM2.5 levels. In spite of the difference in the length of exposure and the variations in 24-hour levels in 2023, air pollution brought quantifiable health harm to the public health.

To effectively address air pollution in Indonesia, CREA recommends the following policy interventions:

  1. Enforcement of the updated 2019 emissions standards for all planned thermal power plants, including ones currently under construction, to ensure that plants can still be retrofitted to fit stricter and safer emissions standards. Installation of Continuous Emission Monitoring Systems (CEMS) in all relevant facilities for all major pollutants should be pursued as part of compliance requirements. 
  2. Establishing real-time and time-averaged emissions reporting systems that can be easily accessed by the public. This national platform will serve as a tool to help understand the air quality issues, and will become an asset for regulators and monitoring bodies to formulate and enforce evidence-based policies.
  3. Review of emissions standards for industries based on sector-specific Best Available Technology. Monitoring and enforcement of emission standards needs to be improved so that emitters have a strong incentive to comply. In addition to this, policymakers and enforcement agencies would be able to assess and determine the most suitable implementation pathway.

Katherine Hasan, Analyst; with contributions from Hubert Thieriot, Data Lead