Peer reviewed analysis from world leading experts

Energising youth engagement in environmental activism in Indonesia

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Children use puddle water to bathe as the water in their homes dries up due to drought in Tarumajaya Village, Bekasi Regency, West Java Province, 1 October 2023 (Photo: Reuters/Aditya Irawan).

In Brief

Inspired by the global climate strikes led by Greta Thunberg and other international activists, Southeast Asian youth have begun to organise their own strikes and protests. They have also lobbied for stronger climate policies at the national and regional levels, and initiated local projects and campaigns to address the climate crisis and its potential impact on their region.


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In Indonesia, around 90 per cent of young people are worried about the impacts of the climate crisis. There is a high level of interest among adolescents in both urban and rural areas in participating in local mitigation efforts.

The estimated number of youth in Indonesia is 64.92 million, or almost a quarter of the total population. People aged between 17–39 will make up 54 per cent of voters in the 2024 presidential election. This shows the significant potential role of young people in Indonesia in improving policies and activities to mitigate the impact of the climate crisis.

Local youth movements in Indonesia focused on climate and environmental issues are gaining more public attention. These movements have raised a wide range of issues from plastic waste, pollution and deforestation to the displacement of indigenous people. Some of their activism has also served as a social accountability mechanism and resulted in policy changes.

Youth who are actively involved in climate and environmental movements are still mostly those with access to social capital, including university students and urban middle class young people, and lived experience of the impact of the crises. This suggests that there is a need to bridge social capital to expand youth participation and create a more inclusive environment for young people with less access to networks and opportunities.

Capacity building, protest campaigns, community support and case work are the most prominent forms of youth climate action. Advocacy and research remain less common as forms of civic action.

Young people use social media to disseminate information, recruit new members, campaign and mobilise the public for protests. The government and non-governmental organisations can work with young people to promote different forms of comprehensive youth civic action. While supporting dominant forms of civic action — such as capacity building, campaigns and protests, community support and case work — organisations can also complement youth civic action by facilitating research and policy advocacy. Proportionate support can help different forms of youth civic action achieve systemic change and make environmental activism more sustainable.

Various forms of engagement are differently influenced by the interests and capacities of participants. Youth-led initiatives with limited resources tend to be volunteer-driven and have non-hierarchical organisational structures to enable flexible working arrangements. On the other hand, youth engagement through non-governmental organisations tend to be geared towards structured programs, particularly training, that encourage youth to create their own initiatives on environmental issues.

Facilitating more collaborative work is a strategic objective for the future. Governments and non-governmental organisations should provide incentives by creating spaces or coordination forums where youth environmental activists can expand their networks. Networking spaces or forums at the national and regional levels will help build and strengthen group solidarity, expand funding opportunities and increase potential cooperation. This will ensure that civic actions do not overlap in their efforts to achieve common goals.

Unsupportive or unclear policies regarding youth participation, tokenism and exclusion act as barriers to youth participation in decision making. Institutional leaders need to ensure that policies that support civic engagement are in place in their institutions, and that these can be applied to ensure meaningful youth engagement. This may include implementing recruitment strategies for young members, ensuring the representation of diverse groups of young people and involving them in decision-making processes. Providing financial and capacity building support for young people to voice their opinions and actively contribute to the organisation is also important.

Establishing a youth board or youth advisory council is a good model of youth involvement in influencing strategies and internal governance. Older generations also need to be trained to collaborate with young people by fostering a work culture of mutual respect and shared power.

Young people in Indonesia need to be able to perform social actions without the fear of criminalisation. But safe places for Indonesian youth to participate in civic activities and to express their opinions are disappearing. The Information and Electronic Transaction Law has been misused to criminalise activists and discourage protests. The recent ratification of the Criminal Code Law will exacerbate the restriction of freedom of expression and the right to protest. Further efforts to advocate for the revision of these draconian laws will be critical to ensuring youth civic engagement.

Widi Laras Sari is Lead for Research, Monitoring and Evaluation at the Center on Child Protection and Wellbeing at Universitas Indonesia (PUSKAPA).

Ryan Febrianto is Senior Strategist  at the Center on Child Protection and Wellbeing at Universitas Indonesia (PUSKAPA).

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