Triarko Nurlambang


 Triarko Nurlambang, Center for Applied Geography, the University of Indonesia

November 2008

Climate Change impacts; the never ending debates

Climate Change impact is remaining a debatable global topic but it seems that a tendency to accept the idea and fact are getting wider quite rapid compare to those who do not accept. Climate Change may be a controversial topic due to its nature where some people just accepted as a normal climatic cycle change which has similar pattern to what has happened during the great melting ice sheet era hundred thousand years ago. While the other majority strongly accept due to the greater empirical evidences on the existing of Climate Change phenomena. In fact,  many people understood that currently the Climate Change might create greater disaster as a consequence of greater number of inhabitant live in a displacement areas. Their activities mostly much depend on natural resources, either for economic reasons or social-culture reasons. Moreover, the Climate Change impact has improving public knowledge on Climate Change issues which has quite successfully created public opinion on how harmful the Climate Change will be for their life. In fact, a global hysteria of Climate Change has emerged intensively by the help of ICT (Information, Communication, Technology) media development. It has put us, as people of the world,  in a more ‘defensive position’ towards the consequence of Climate Change. While on the other hand there are quite some people taking greater benefits from this Climate Change phenomena, although some still do not understand or do care on the Climate Change impact issues. This might happen because of they do not really care or do not have access on the information. Those people or activities who get the opportunity from Climate Change phenomena such as winery plantation, dried fish farmer, traditional salt farmer, solar energy, or other creative-innovative big businesses on Climate Change safety hardware and software, or even a lot of  research projects on Climate Change and its impacts has been escalating for the last few decades. Subsequently, the Climate Change issues have become not only as scientific consideration on environmental topics but it has emerged to be a political and economical agenda as well.  The political and economical agenda has quite wide range of debatable issues related to climate change, from the issue of switching land uses, industrial structure, alternative energy usage,  cost compensation of carbon usage, transportation  mode choices, reforestation, water management system, newly found epidemic diseases, flood refugees scenario and other cross countries or cross cutting issues. As it becomes common public knowledge then this situation, more or less, has geared into a new platform of lifestyle and living.


There is a number of predictions on climate change as published by various bodies. For sure, climate change is real and may create growing problems. It has been proved that climate change is exist. Based on “the assumption business as usual’, the indicators has been defined and accepted widely, such as increasing average temperature by 10 C by the year of 2025, raising mean sea level by 8-29 cm by the year of 2030 (IPPC in WWF, 2007).  While in Indonesia some prediction has been made as follows:

  • Warming 0.2 to 0.3°C per decade

•   Increase in annual precipitation across islands, except in the south (projected to decline by 15%)

•   Change in the seasonality of precipitation; parts of Sumatra and Borneo may

become 10-30% wetter by 2080’s (Dec-Feb); Jakarta projected to be 5- 15%

drier (Jun-Aug)

•   30-day delay in the annual monsoon, 10% increase in rainfall later in the crop year (April-June), and up to 75% decrease in rainfall later in the dry season (July–September)

  • Mean sea level increase 31 mm by the next decade; and it is predicted that about 2,000 island in Indonesia will disappear by 2030
  • In case of Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, it is predicted that by the 2050 some settlement areas and main harbour Tanjung Priok will be flooded as seen below


Jakarta coastal plain flood


Source: Indroyono, 2008


Indonesia – Australia: a comparative study in the context of climate change

Map of Indonesia and Australia

Source: Google Earth, 15/11/08

First of all, there is a significant different in geographical setting between Indonesia and Australia. Indonesia is an archipelago country in tropical eco-region. Whilst Australia is a continent country in a combination of tropical and sub-tropical eco-regions. Either Indonesia and Australia is large country in terms of area compare to other countries in the world.  As a developing country with huge number of population, nearly 240 millions recently, disparities of welfare, less educated people and poverty are remain the major problems of development in Indonesia. Australia as a developed country has only  20 millions inhabitants, more or less quite the same as the Greater Jakarta inhabitants. The other major different profile between Indonesia and Australia as seen in below table:


Aspect Indonesia Australia
Area Total: 1,919,440 sq kmLand: 1,826,440 sq kmWater: 93,000 sq km Total: 7,686,850 sq kmLand: 7,617,930 sq kmWater: 68,920 sq km
Land boundaries Total: 2,830 km 0 km
Coastline 54,716 km 25,760 km
Climate Tropical: hot, humid; more moderate in highlands Generally arid to semiarid; temperate in south and east; tropical in north
Terrain Mostly coastal lowlands; larger island have interior mountains Mostly low plateau with desert, fertile plan in southeast
Elevation extreme Lowest point: Indian Ocean at 0 mHighest point: Puncak Jaya at 5,030 m Lowest point: Lake Eyre at – 15 mHighest point: Mount Kociouszko at 2,229 m
Land use Arable land: 11.03%Permanent crops: 7.04%Other: 81.93% (2005) Arable land: 6.15%Permanent crops: 0.04%Other: 93.81% (2003)
Natural hazards Occasional floods, severe droughts, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, forest fire Cyclone along the coast, severe droughts, forest fire
Environment-current issues Deforestation, water pollution from industrial wastes, sewage, air pollution in urban areas, smoke and haze from forest fire Soil erosion from overgrazing, industrial development/ urbanization, soil salinity, land clearing for agriculture threatens the biodiversity, great barrier reef environmental degradation
Geography note Archipelago of 17,508 islands (6,000 inhabited) World’s smallest continent but sixth-largest country; population only concentrated along the east and south-east coast-line


Based on climate change perspective and its impacts, especially in terms of possible climate change migrant, hypothetically Indonesia might be more vulnerable then Australia. Therefore in terms of migration flows, Indonesia is the origin and Australia is the destination. And displacement areas in Indonesia is much greater then Australia. In accordance to the mentioned hypothesis, the migration flow would be from Indonesia to Australia.

Is there any direct Climate Change impact on migration?

Many scientists and indeed common people or event policy makers are remains unsure on the relationship between Climate Change and migration. It is a highly complex issue and remaining uncertain. The only accepted idea is the concept and reality of climate changes which getting more significantly proved by recent scientific findings. Almost all researches, as reported mainly by IPCC, related to climate change issues demonstrated that average annual temperature is increasing,  by 0.3 – 0.5 degrees Celsius and may creates prolong drought.  Melting ice sheet in both polar regions (north and south) and other scattered areas has caused mean sea level raise in average of 31 mm by the next decade. While some scientists found that there are limited preliminary empirical evidences in supporting the hypothesis of climate change may creates negative impact on inhabitant through the indication of big rate migration flows. Actually it should be understood as the climate change has not creating some extreme changes to the environment or geographical settings. It is indeed changing the environment but in a steady gradual manner and it is an evolutionary rather revolutionary change where people may have chances or times to adapt these changes. This is inline with the belief of cultural approach to climate change phenomena. The rate of changing impact phenomena may depend on the capacity of people and their institution and system in adapting (rather than reacting) the changing. In other words, vulnerability may less in a certain region when people, institution and system are better prepared to adapt any possible impact due to the climate change. Many international, national or even local research agencies are interested in trying to prove this hypothesis since the last two decades or so. Several terms have been used or developed for expressing this migration flows, such as environmental refugees, climate change migrants, and flood refugees. Many kind of methods and analytical techniques have been used and developed, either using quantitative or qualitative approach,  to predict the impact of climate change to migration. But as it reported that the result shows less or limited empirical evidences has found to prove the direct impact of climate change on migration. However, a typology of potential migrations has developed by Kothary (in Raleigh,, 2008)as shown in below table:


Direct Climate Changes

Indirect Climate Changes

Type of Movement

Time Span

Gradual climate change Chronic disasters, such as drought, degradation Seasonal labour migration. Temporary circulation Seasonal
Gradual climate change Chronic disasters drought/ degradation Contract labour migration Yearly
Sudden or gradual climate change Natural disasters/ severe drought/ famine/ floods Forced/ distress migration Temporary
Sudden or gradual climate change Extreme temperatures/ sea level rise Permanent migration Lifetime

Source: Raleigh, et. al (2008)

The last type of potential migration due to mentioned climate change would be the right definition for expressing environmental refugees.

Either internal migration or migration flow across international border in reality is a complex system. Some people may migrate due to politics, economic, social, culture, environmental reasons. And it may change its platform of thinking in line the dynamic of that reasons frame, as it is known as behaviour over-time terms. Therefore, non-linear approach most like more appropriate. Understanding its origin – destination characteristic or situation and its medium i.e. transportation modes, will give better understanding what kind of causal loop and feedback as well as delay aspects of this movement model. And it will be much better understanding when we put these phenomena in the context of space and time perspective.





Either caused by environmental pressures or economic pressure, every migration decision may follow by the following circular decision making:


The above illustration might give some understandings that adaptation process (the ‘interface’) towards a new geographical setting may creates a new platform of human landscape in certain regional entity. The space value, either tangible or intangible resources system, of each certain new geographical settings most likely creates different overall living system which at the end will also creates some new aspects on decision making for moving, the pull or push factors of migration.  Moreover, this changing consequences influencing economic pressures setting. If the economic in that region is getting better-off than before then refugees may not or less happen. Nevertheless, a different question of what kind of displacement will emerge in this situation in that certain region seems to be questionable and hard to predict by using any linear approach. This dynamic situation has come to the understanding on level of complexity in terms of space and time behaviour of a region dynamic. It is also depends on which tier of decision making we are dealing with, either at macro or micro level. Since climate change is an evolution process then the adaptation process allow people to react positively and be ready for any becoming changes of either possible environmental or economical pressures.

Each community, based on their value, belief, tacit and explicit knowledge have their own mental model in adapting or reacting any environmental or economic pressure changes. Subsequently, any public policy on climate change impact may different from country to another. In the context of system dynamic, including the environmental and economic system as one regional system, the policy is the delay aspect. It can delay any possible vulnerable situation which cause migration action as spatial behavior.  The westerners and Asians have different mental model, as illustrated below:

Source: Nisbett, Richard E., 2003

If we put climate change impact into the international policy context then the above understanding on each mental model, the Asians and Westerners, firstly should be synthesis in order to capture any necessary possible conflict. Afterwards, the decision making process itself has to take the differences into account. Therefore communication and understanding between these two parties, such Indonesia who has the Asians mental model and Australia who has the Westerners mental model at the end should find tune their common ground or problem or understanding in order to fulfil any decision on international policy towards climate change impact on possible environmental refugees.


Based on the IOM report in 2007, the terms of environmental refugees was challenged by a number of scholars such as Black who written his controversy article entitled “Environmental Refugees; Myth or Reality”.  There are two definitions of environmental refugees which used quite often:

“people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural and/or triggered by people) that jeopardised their existence and/or seriously affected the quality of their life. By ‘environmental disruption’ in this definition is meant any physical, chemical and/or biological changes in the ecosystem (or resource base) that render it, temporarily or permanently, unsuitable to support human life.” (El-Hinnawi in Klomannskog , 2008) and,

“persons who no longer gain a secure livelihood in their traditional homelands because of what are primarily environmental factors of unusual scope.” (Myers and Kent in Klomannsklog , 2008)


 Brown, Myer and El-Hinnami who firstly using the term and predicting that by 2010 there will be 50 millions environmental refugees and 200 millions by the year of 2050 as a consequence of risk of displacement (UNHCR, 2002). Black and others argue that the prediction is driven by political and popularity subjective perspective. There are weaknesses in that prediction, firstly, lack quality of population data. Secondly, it did not take into account the disparities of geography population where people in less developing areas mostly bounding to their cultural community rather than moving to a new and strange areas. In short, they may not tend to move cross country border. Lastly, moving outside or cross country border would costly and those people in displacement areas in the less developing country may not be able to afford some money for moving and start a new living. It seems that Black argument is relevant to Indonesian context.

The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly scenario

Anthropogenic climate change exacerbates existing environmental, economic, and social vulnerabilities. Although some climatic hazardous exist (climate event), such as storm, flooding, and draught, it seems that it will only impact at limited areas (not through out the country), especially in a large geographical country like Indonesia and Australia. It will happen in a linear distribution pattern of displacement areas. Based on Refugee Studies Centre article (2008), it is reported that almost all coastal plain areas, such eastern Sumatera, north Java, western, southern and part of eastern Kalimantan, south-western Sulawesi, and along southern part of Papua are the highest level of vulnerability in Indonesia. It is obvious within those areas as most big cities lies on that coastal plain (WWF, 2007). Whilst in Australia the most vulnerable will be lies on along eastern and south-eastern part of Australia.

Most recent scenario of climate change impact has developed by Oli Brown (IOM, 2008). Brown divided into three scenario concerning  future forced migration factors: a) the quantity of future greenhouse gas emission, b) the rate of future population growth and distribution, c) the meteorological evolution of climate change, d) the impactiveness of local and national adaptation strategies. The three scenarios are illustrate as follows:




Typology of climate change impact (2050)

The Good
  • Population peaks mid-century around 9 billion and declines thereafter towards 7 billion
  • Rapid change in economic structure (less materials intensity)
  • Clean Management Development
  • All big emission producer countries join the international carbon emission  commitment
Relatively low

  • Atmosphere concentration of CO2 stabilize around 600 ppm
  • Average temperature rise by 1.80 C
  • Sea level rise 18-38 cm
  • Migration increase by 5 – 10% along the displacement areas


The Bad
  • Population peaks mid-century around 9 billion and declines thereafter towards 7 billion
  • Rapid change in economic structure (less materials intensity)
  • The international commitment to reduce gas emission is delay due to remain usage of fossil fuel
  • Some funds are invested to adapt but not enough
Relatively quite high

  • Atmosphere concentration of CO2 stabilize around 850 ppm
  • Average temperature rise by 2.40 C (Stern report: a 30C temperature rise would mean 1 to 4 billion people suffer water shortage)
  • Sea level rise 21-48 cm
  • Millions of people would be temporarily displaced by individual extreme weather events.
The Ugly
  • Population peaks mid-century around 9 billion and declines thereafter towards 7 billion
  • Rapid change in economic structure
  • A “business as usual” scenario in consuming fossil fuel


Relatively high

  • Atmosphere concentration of CO2 around 1550 ppm
  • Average temperature rise by 4.00 C
  • Sea level rise 29-59 cm
  • It may exceeding the 200 millions people displaced by climate change

The Ugly scenario is the worst scenario. But in general, almost all climate change studies or reports tend to use this Ugly scenario. Some reasons have been emerged by a number experts and international bodies, such as IOM, and UNHCR that the Ugly is most likely more realistic, especially when competition among countries remain rely on industrial based which consume a lot of fossil fuel.  This ugly scenario used by executives, legislatives, and also NGOs to develop their policies and strategic plan towards the following development progress. In terms of decision making capacity and scale of development problems variety, it is quite clear that Australia has less burden than Indonesia. Development Disparities and welfare level gap within the country of Indonesia are giving significant pressure and force the Indonesia government to take these issues as the top priority. The Ugly scenario may giving more pressure to these development problems. This situation may not occur in Australia. Therefore Australia may have better chance to develop better readiness of their community in coping any possible climate change impact.  In overall, either Indonesia or Australia, should be prepared their readiness for balancing this Ugly scenario at necessary cost.


The answer of climate change impacts to migration depends on understanding of the socio-cultural-political-economic-environment systems. It is an inter-relationship causal- loop among those aspects or dynamic system of people living in some displacement areas. Delaying intervention on growing climate change and its impact depends on the quality of policies, regulation instrument or commitment among people or communities at international, national or even local level might create some opportunities to adapt or anticipate any possible extreme changes in the future. The adaptive capacity developed by policies, laws and regulation, ground or reality learning process should be considered as the top priority to improve public collective action towards any possible harmful condition due to climate change impact. In other world improving this adaptive capacity may lowering the level of vulnerability within that area or to mitigate at the earliest possible of worst scenario that is the ugly scenario.

As archipelago and developing countries, Indonesia will face relatively harder decision and preparation towards climate change impact than Australia. But the climate change impact itself, such as environmental refugees is remain uncertain either in terms of flow size or even being refugees from Indonesia to Australia..


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