Relocation Case Study


Indonesia’s capital city Jakarta, situated on the island of Java, is one of the world’s most densely populated cities and faces significant threats from climate change. With a population exceeding 30 million, this sprawling mega-city grapples with severe pollution, perpetual traffic congestion, regular flooding, and earthquakes. Adding to its climate vulnerability, Jakarta is one of the fastest sinking cities globally due to continuous extraction of groundwater. Since 1978, parts of the city have subsided by up to 4 meters, heightening its susceptibility to recurrent flooding from rain and high tides, tsunamis, and coastal surges - events expected to increase in frequency due to climate change.

In response, President Joko Widodo unveiled plans in 2019 to establish a new capital city named Nusantara in East Kalimantan, located on the island of Borneo. Kalimantan is four times larger than Java and is strategically located in the country’s centre. The aspirations for Nusantara are ambitious, with plans that the city will be powered by renewable energy, transforming it into a technologically advanced hub fostering a new green economy and work culture. Nevertheless, this endeavour presents its own set of environmental challenges, including biodiversity and natural habitat loss from deforestation and the displacement of indigenous communities. Moreover, ensuring water security for a burgeoning population and adapting to potential extreme climate events such as droughts and wildfires remain pressing concerns.

Indonesia’s announcement to relocate their political capital is one of the first examples of a central government-sanctioned, methodical, large-scale migration in the modern Anthropocene era. There is concern, however, that the construction of this new capital for Indonesia could potentially worsen Jakarta’s environmental problems while also introducing new challenges and environmental problems in Kalimantan. The city’s construction requires clearing vast areas of tropical rainforest and wildlife habitat, creating ongoing environmental impacts. Furthermore, socio-cultural problems may be exacerbated, particularly for indigenous communities such as the Dayaks. Historically, the Dayaks have faced displacement to make way for palm oil plantations, mining operations and paper production. The construction of a new capital city is likely to intensify these challenges, leading to conflict and disruption of traditional ways of life for indigenous peoples.