CitizenClimate: Veronica

Global citizens taking action on the climate crisis for the sake of the planet.

The Citizen: Veronica, housewife and mother of two children, 11 and 8. Lives in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The Action: Veronica was one of the plaintiffs in the air pollution lawsuit by Jakarta residents against President Joko Widodo, the Jakarta governor, and other senior government officials to improve the air quality of Jakarta. Home to more than 30 million people, Jakarta is routinely ranked as one of the most polluted cities in the world for air quality.

On September 16, 2021, the Central Jakarta District Court ruled that the Indonesian government was guilty of failing to uphold the citizens’ right to clean air. The historic decision obliges the government to establish ambient air quality standards that can protect vulnerable groups and develop air pollution control strategies that involve the public.

A mosque, houses and in the background tall buildings are covered by smog from air pollution in Jakarta. Air quality in Jakarta is getting worse recently due to the high pollution from traffic and the coal power plant that surrounds Jakarta. © Jurnasyanto Sukarno / Greenpeace

What prompted Mbak Vero to join the air pollution lawsuit?

I feel uneasy and angry about the state of the environment in Jakarta. My family and I have lived in another location for two years where the air quality is better. We feel there is something different about the environment here in Jakarta, especially the air. It is very hot and congested, and the children sweat easily. In addition, my little one has allergies, which got worse when we returned to Jakarta. So, I wanted to know about Jakarta’s air quality.

In 2019, Jakarta turned out to be number one as the city with the worst pollution, not only in Asia, but also in the world. I was increasingly convinced that there was indeed something wrong, something not quite right about where we live. At that time, I opened social media and there was an open announcement for anyone who wanted to be involved to be a part of an air pollution lawsuit against the government.

Apart from being a threat to health, there are also economic losses from air pollution.

Treatment (because of the impact of air pollution) is not cheap. Some have asthma, and insurance doesn’t cover everything, so they have to pay more for treatment. For example, my son has a dust allergy. When the eczema is severe, it is covered by insurance but not all. There are medicines that you have to buy yourself. Therefore, it is very important to access clean air so that it is more economical for all of us.

Veronica taking action for cleaner air in Jakarta

What was the expectation from the lawsuit?

We want transparency from the government regarding our air quality and also further disclosure of information and notifications about air levels, how bad, how good, how clean. We are never given information. We must actively find out. If I wasn’t a plaintiff, I wouldn’t know there is air monitoring that can be done online.

It is our expectation that the government can ensure that the air we breathe is of good quality and of sufficient quality to ensure the health of all of us. There should be legal efforts made to encourage openness and to encourage the government to take concrete steps to reduce air pollution in Jakarta.

How did Mbak Vero feel after the court’s decision was announced?

The other plaintiffs and I watched the online broadcast. We are quite relieved. Most parts of our lawsuit were granted. But there are some parts, for example, even though the government states that it is negligent in measures to prevent air pollution, it is not declared a violation of human rights. So we feel relieved but also anxious. Will the implementation be in accordance with what the court decides, or will the government appeal against the ruling? The reality is that the national government and the central government appealed, but the Jakarta government did not. I have mixed feelings, happy but also still wary while monitoring the implementation of this decision, on how far the DKI government is implementing the decision.

How important is citizen participation in addressing climate crisis issues?

The environment is deteriorating. Outside of Jakarta, nationally, deforestation, forest fires, and air pollution are still ongoing.

In Jakarta itself, many trees are cut down for road construction and Jakarta is sinking more and more every day. It is important for us to have more knowledge of the environment and we must encourage it together. The government must be more systematic and take concrete action to prevent bad things from happening. This citizen lawsuit is only one step. We have achieved a small victory, but of course we have to open this up to other citizens so that they are also aware of this decision. The co-plaintiffs themselves were also supported by Greenpeace, Walhi, and other friends to continue to monitor the campaign.

Indeed there must be a small effort to preserve the environment. Sometimes it’s because people don’t know what to do. Maybe we need more campaigns but it can also be from small things. For example, I have started using public transportation more instead of a private car. Maybe other people can do things like that, apart from guarding the government’s decision on air pollution.

Greenpeace activist holds a banner reads #CleanAirNow during an air pollution campaign in Jakarta. © Jurnasyanto Sukarno / Greenpeace

What is Mbak Vero’s hope for the future for yourself and your children?

I thought a lot about this. My hopes are not only for me and my children, but also for children and other vulnerable or marginalized groups. Maybe I still have the luxury of buying an air purifier, but others may not. We must work together to ensure that the quality of this air is better. This is not only for our family, but also for all, including the group of children whose families may be more exposed to dirty air. I hope there is more strict monitoring of air pollution and that those who cause air pollution must also be given strict sanctions so they are not allowed to pollute freely.

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