The Globe as you know it is changing.
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To understand more about why you are so important to our member-supported initiative, we encourage you to read the following from our managing editor ~ Read more

The Globe as you know it is changing.

Since 2007, Southeast Asia Globe has been a space for some of the region’s best writers and photographers to take our readers behind the headlines into the stories that shape people’s lives. Every month, you could expect to pick up our latest print edition and find high-quality journalism, analysis and artwork waiting on every page. And since 2007, we’ve fought to uphold our promise of quality and independence to you, our readers.

But, like we said, the world is changing. Print publications just aren’t reaching the audiences they need to fulfil their promise of informing, educating and entertaining the public. Advertisers continue to invest in digital platforms while printing costs creep ever higher. Print may not be dead, but it’s fighting for its life. And we’re tired of waiting by a sickbed for its condition to improve. We want to be present at the birth of something new.

That’s why Southeast Asia Globe is relaunching as a member-driven platform featuring daily long-form features combining world-class journalism with enthralling art design and data-centered tech. Through our core pillars – Power, Money, Life and Earth – we are focusing in on the central issues that our readers have always engaged with most, with the same in-depth coverage of politics, business, social affairs and the environment that you’ve come to expect since 2007.

But leaving print behind us doesn’t just save our backs from lugging stacks of magazines across Southeast Asia. It opens up a global readership who don’t just want to read the news, but have a say in the stories that we tell and the way that we tell them. We’re not asking you to take out another magazine subscription – our stories are open to all. What we’re offering our members is a space where they can pitch and vote on the stories that they think deserve to be told. We want to inspire an engaged and active community of members who vote for, comment on and contribute to the stories that matter most to them. We want to work with our members to curate the way they engage with the news – not just as readers, but as an active extension of our editorial team.

That’s how we’re changing to bring you great stories. Here’s how we’re not.

We’re independent. Always have been, always will be. We’re not owned by any corporation or aligned with any state. We choose the stories that we tell, and the way that we tell them.

We’re creative. We’re not interested in churning out breaking news stories on the hour, every hour. We believe that the best stories are the ones that come alive on the page, digging deeper into the issues that shape Southeast Asia – and bringing you along for the ride. From our dedicated designers to our new software development team, our commitment is to constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways of reaching out to our readers.

We’re open. Challenging governments, NGOs and businesses to be transparent with the public means nothing if we keep our own readers in the dark. That’s why we will be completely open about why we tell the stories that we tell – and how we pay for them. Work with us to build something that endures where many media fail, and decide with us exactly where that money is going.

Above all, we’re optimistic. And yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Faced with impending climate collapse, the rise of right-wing authoritarian governments across the world, widening wealth and income inequality and deepening divisions rooted in race or gender or creed, it’s hard not to open the papers and feel the weight of the world pressing down. But we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe that when people work together, they can make their little corner of the world a more just, open and equal place.

And that’s why we can’t do this without you. We believe that across the globe is a community of people who care deeply about social justice, environmental action and press freedom – and who will join in to help make those ideals a reality. We’re not just holding our hand out – we need your voice to play a vital role in building Southeast Asia Globe into a leading space for progressive causes in the region. Tell us what stories the mainstream media is missing. Share with us the causes that matter most to you, and how we can champion those causes not just across Southeast Asia, but the world.

Our vision is clear. By 2025, we want to be recognised for building a great space for outstanding journalists from across the region to explore new ways of telling Southeast Asia’s most vital stories. Let’s bring together a community of engaged and loyal members who want to help reshape the media rather than just read it. And we want to reach a point where our readers, not advertisers, are the ones working to support our shared vision of an inclusive media.

We can’t do this without you. Let’s get together and build something that we all believe in.

If you’re interested in joining us, sign up to our newsletter, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter. And watch this space.

Indonesia’s coal addiction reaches new heights

By: Nithin Coca - Posted on: June 13, 2016 | Business

As the rest of the world moves away from fossil fuels, Indonesia is reacting to a drop in its coal exports by ramping up local production, putting the country’s health, environment and economy in danger

Last year was rough for one of Indonesia’s top exports: coal. Just 12 months earlier, the country was the world’s biggest exporter of the fossil fuel, shipping 410 megatonnes of coal to its power-hungry neighbours, most notably India and China. This created an economic windfall, but with global prices falling and Beijing shifting to domestically produced fuels and clean energy, Indonesia’s coal production is in turmoil. Shipments to China alone were down 49% last year and the outlook for 2016 is even worse. Already, coal-mining companies are asking for public subsidies or shutting down operations entirely.

coal
Testing: an Indonesian worker takes a piece of coal as a sample at the Bukit Asam coal mine in South Sumatra, Indonesia

“The short-term outlook for coal is fairly bleak,” said Hiran Bhadra, global mining industry leader for KPMG. “I honestly do not know when the gross oversupply [of coal] will be sucked out of the market.”

The Indonesian government has come up with a simple, but potentially devastating response: replace this foreign demand with local consumption. It is planning the construction of 117 new coal-fired plants throughout the country, which would create 10,000MW in total power-generation capacity. The contrast is clear – while much of the world is shifting away from fossil fuels, Indonesia is doubling down. This plan would make the archipelagic nation one of the last places in the world pushing forward on coal energy, to the alarm of local environmental activists.

“If the government continues down this path of kowtowing to coal interests our beautiful country will be turned into a poisoned wasteland, producing a resource that fewer and fewer want to buy,” said Arif Fiyanto, an anti-coal campaigner for Greenpeace Indonesia.

Coal mining

The cost of the Indonesian coal boom can be seen in the primary coal-mining region, the province of East Kalimantan, situated on the Indonesian side of the richly forested island of Borneo. To remain a step ahead of competitors in Australia and India, Indonesian producers have relied on cheap, non-unionised labour – often drawing migrant workers from other parts of the country – and used environmentally degrading open-air, strip-mining techniques. This has poisoned waterways across the province, destroyed vast agricultural regions and means the regional capital, Samarinda, is highly prone to flooding due to increased water runoff from the surrounding tree-stripped hills. 

If the government scheme goes ahead, it would spread this destructive practice to other regions, advancing the country’s historical reliance on natural resources for economic development despite evidence that this single-minded focus leaves it highly vulnerable to changing commodity prices and shifts in global demand.

“During the resource boom, the growth of investment and skill-based manufacturing stagnated [in Indonesia], resulting in a process of de facto de-industrialisation,” said Indonesian academic Zulfan Tadjoeddin, a natural resources expert at the University of Western Sydney. “Diversification away from resource dependence has not yet taken place.”

Additionally, a study by Harvard University released last year found that the health impacts of the government’s coal push could result in an additional 21,200 lives lost every year, on top of the estimated 6,500 premature deaths caused by pollution from existing coal plants in the country.

“The human health cost from this rising coal pollution should be considered when making choices about Indonesia’s energy future,” said Shannon Koplitz, lead researcher for the project at a press conference to release the report. “Planned coal expansion could significantly increase pollution levels across Indonesia.”

This coal push is closely tied to President Joko Widodo’s ongoing infrastructure drive. As with public infrastructure, energy access remains a major issue in Indonesia. According to the Renewable Energy Policy Network’s 2015 Global Status Report, 22% of Indonesians – or nearly 50 million people – lack reliable access to electricity. Coal is the obvious choice to fill that gap.

“If a developing country like Indonesia wants to reach [a] higher electrification rate… we will need to continue looking at coal,” Indonesian Coal Mining Association chief Bob Kamandanu told consultancy firm Oxford Business Group. “Coal is still the cheapest resource for power generation.”

Increasing coal production could help the country achieve a greater degree of energy independence. Currently, half of Indonesia’s energy comes from oil, and it has swiftly become one of the world’s major oil importers. Replacing even some of that imported oil with domestically produced coal would, the government argues, help increase energy security.

There are economic risks, however, to further outlays on coal. A joint report released in March by NGOs including the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and CoalSwarm estimates that, on current projections, almost $1 trillion in global coal investment could become stranded if expected action on climate emissions, as agreed upon by Indonesia and 191 other countries at last year’s Paris Climate Talks, goes forward.

Meanwhile, the increasing cost parity of renewables – which are gaining traction worldwide – means the more environmentally friendly energy source will continue to eat into coal’s share of electricity generation. This is, partly, what has gouged Indonesia’s export market.

“Worldwide, additions of wind and photovoltaic [solar] capacity exceeded coal in 2015 by a factor of three to two,” said CoalSwarm director Ted Nace. “As costs of renewables continue to fall, the move away from coal is likely to accelerate, and both investors and business leaders need to reduce their exposure to coal as quickly as possible.”

Coal industry

Unfortunately, Indonesia is not yet part of this renewables wave, according to Carl Pope, a global energy expert and principal advisor at Inside Straight Strategies. “Renewables in the rest of Asia, including Indonesia, cost twice as much as they do in either India [or] China,” he said. “They cost more because they don’t have the right policy context.”

There is another facet that contributes to Indonesia’s pro-coal stance. These policies are closely intertwined with the cosy, often-corrupt connections between the coal industry and politicians and bureaucrats. “It is common knowledge in Indonesia that politicians at all levels have ties with extractive industries, from palm oil to coal mining,” said Greenpeace’s Fiyanto.

In the 2014 presidential election, two of the front runners in the first round, Prabowo Subianto and Aburizal Bakrie, were multimillionaires whose companies both had substantial holdings in coal mining. There is a strong personal incentive for many politicians, at various levels of the government, to sustain the coal industry, despite its detrimental impact on the national economy and environment.

This has led the country’s most trusted institution, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), to investigate the sector. Earlier this year, it found that 3,900 coal mining companies are not “clean and clear”, and recommended that the relevant provincial governments revoke their permits, giving a glimmer of hope that coal’s stranglehold can be broken.

“Corruption is a chronic problem in the Indonesian natural resources industry, including in coal,” said Fiyanto. “The KPK must make corruption in the natural resources sector its top priority.” Greenpeace wants the central government to step in if regional governments fail to act on the KPK’s recommendation.

Indonesia does not have to look far to see how to move away from coal, as several of its neighbours are already on this path. Earlier this year, Vietnam announced that it was abandoning its previously ambitious coal power plant plans in favour of “accelerated investment in renewable energy”. This was followed by the news that India’s coal imports dropped by 35% last year due to massive oversupply and a faster than expected expansion in renewables.

India’s shift was particularly surprising, as the country faces similar challenges to Indonesia. It is also a densely populated country with a growing economy and huge energy demands, yet it is moving toward renewables quicker than anyone expected, driven by proactive renewables investment by the government.

Indonesia – with its extensive geothermal, solar, micro-hydro and biomass potential – could make such a shift even faster than India. But this seems highly unlikely for the time being in a country where coal resolutely remains king.