An island resident sits in front of her house in February 2023. The low wall protecting her from rising waters reads: “Is there any justice left for residents of Pulau Pari?” Photo: Bay ISMOYO/AFP

Indonesia - Villagers on an island threatened by flooding are seeking justice

The small island paradise of Pulau Pari is located an hour north-west of Jakarta. Its population of 1,500 inhabitants subsist mainly from fishing and tourism. In recent years, the island has increasingly been affected by rising sea waters, which have claimed 11 per cent of its surface area in the last decade and threaten to submerge it entirely. Last year alone, the island flooded five times.

This aerial photograph taken on 22 February 2023 shows a concrete embankment, used to contain rising sea levels, around part of Pari Island in the Thousand Islands archipelago (Kepulauan Seribu in Indonesian).Photo: Bay ISMOYO/AFP

With the support of several NGOs, a group of Pulau Pari’s residents have decided to take legal action against the Swiss company Holcim, the world’s leading cement manufacturer and one of its top 50 greenhouse gas emitters. In a press release issued in February 2023, the plaintiffs call for “compensation for climate damages they have suffered, a financial contribution to flood-protection measures, as well as the rapid reduction of Holcim’s CO2 emissions”.

According to the organisers of the Call for Climate Justice campaign, “this marks the first time that a Swiss corporation could be held legally accountable for its role in climate change”. The campaign’s organisers believe that Holcim, based in the Swiss city of Zug, is doing “too little to reduce its emissions so as not to exceed the threshold of 1.5°C of global warming”.

Holcim was active in Indonesia until 2019, when it sold its business to local cement manufacturer Semen Indonesia. According to one study, however, the company has emitted more than 7 billion tonnes of CO2 since 1950, accounting for 0.42 per cent of all global fossil fuel emissions and more than twice as much as Switzerland has emitted since the start of the industrial revolution.

Ecologists estimate that most of the 42-hectare island could be under water by 2050.

Threatened by rising sea levels, 58 Small Island Developing States (SIDS) located around the globe are suffering some of the worst impacts of climate change, even though they are least responsible for it: together they account for just 1 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

For years, the inhabitants of these disappearing atolls have been fighting to save their land. At COP27, held last December in Egypt, the small island countries called for a tax on the profits of fossil fuel multinationals, which would be used to help poor nations adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

The plaintiffs are demanding €14,000 in compensation for the damage caused. While a paltry sum, this money could be used to finance the preservation and expansion of the mangrove forest. This is the second international case of this kind brought by residents of the Global South against a major Western company.

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