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Clearer Jakarta Skies May Not Last Long

06 April 2020

By Nadhilah Shani and Yudiandra YuwonoCalls to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 have gotten stronger since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. The declaration highlights the importance of countries beating the virus by working together.

In response to the global turmoil, ASEAN member states are taking strict measures such as travel restrictions and movement control. In Indonesia, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo urged for social distancing and eventually declared large-scale social restriction, in response to initiatives taken by local governments, including Jakarta, to lock down their jurisdictions. Such restrictions aim to limit person-to-person contact, thus dampening the spread of COVID-19.

Thanks to rapid urbanization, Jakarta has become a crowded mass gathering with daily activities involving more than 30.2 million people (National Development Planning Agency/Bappenas, 2018) of which 80.5 per cent commute to work. From Greater Jakarta, 5.4 million commutes using private and public transportation, according to the World Bank.

Consequently, according to research by PulseLab Jakarta and Statistics Indonesia (BPS), every part of Greater Jakarta is highly interlinked. Commuting for an average of one to three hours would make these people vulnerable to the virus and likely to exacerbate the COVID-19 pandemic without such restrictions.

As Jakarta tries to shield its people from the pandemic, an interesting question can be raised from the perspective of energy use and climate change, will these attempts make any impact on Jakarta’s current energy demand from transportation and ultimately, reduce its emissions?

Data show that Jakarta is currently swarmed by more than 18 million vehicles, mostly two-wheelers and passenger cars, making up 74 and 20 per cent of the total, respectively (Bappenas, 2018). With activities limited during the attempt to flatten the curve, energy usage will certainly drop.

According to ClimateWatch data, in 2016, CO2 emissions from transportation in Indonesia reached 130MtCO2e, accounting for 28 per cent of the total CO2 emissions from the energy sector. By avoiding 10 per cent of these emissions, we would avoid burning about 6 tons of coal, equivalent to a carbon offset of 215 million tree seedlings grown for 10 years.

Social distancing will most definitely reduce Jakarta’s emissions. The city has experienced clearer skies, just like China’s cities after the lockdown.

As an intergovernmental energy agency, the ASEAN Center for Energy (ACE) is supporting the government’s effort. Not only has reducing person-to-person contact been shown to be effective globally, but it is also an approach that could significantly reduce emissions. To share our perspective on this approach, we created an internal survey and measured our willingness and possibility to reduce mobility and make a more permanent shift to remote working.

The result shows that due to commuting concerns during the outbreak, most ACE employees are in favor of pursuing a work-from-home (WfH) measure. Almost two-thirds of our employees agree that WfH is the most efficient way to prevent the virus spread, as it eliminates the commuting requirement and reduces person-to-person contact.

We also found that ACE might be somehow ready to adopt a WfH measure as more than half of our employees spend five hours or more working on a technical task — a task perceived by 80 per cent of our employees as one that requires only minimum to moderate face-to-face interaction.

However, the second most intensive task, coordination meeting, is still perceived as an activity that requires face-to-face interaction. While it is understandable, a good conference call setup might be able to replace the need for face-to-face interaction. In the end, most of our staff were found to be confident that they could still work effectively from home.

Other offices, especially big start-up companies like Gojek and Grab, have complied with the WfH campaign for one to two months. Riding the momentum of this COVID-19-slowing measure, we encourage companies to evaluate the effectiveness of WfH while the government can continue to keep track of this situation and measure the impact of temporary emissions reduction due to the WfH policy.

The findings might be surprising and could be a blessing in disguise amid this outbreak. A small tweak in social behavior could make a significant impact in reducing emissions from the transportation sector.

The question now is whether we will return to “normal” even if the WfH policy has little impact on productivity or continue the policy in an effort to reduce emissions after the pandemic is over. One might suggest a continuation of a full or partial WfH policy and sustain the emissions reduction coming from decreasing daily commuting activities.

Are you in?

The original article appeared today on Jakarta Post.