“Save the Rainforests and the People of Sulawesi: Stop Financing and Investing in Mines and Nickel Smelters as well as the Coal Power Plants that support nickel production in Indonesia. Electric Vehicles Are a False Solution to Climate Change”

The G20 Summit will soon be held in Nusa Dua, Bali. The leaders of developed and developing countries will gather to discuss problems that are happening around the world, especially the economic crisis that countries in Europe and America are starting to experience.

This crisis will also hit Indonesia and other countries of the global South because of their dependence on foreign investment. Therefore, one of the interests of developing countries in the G20 is to ensure that foreign capital from European and American investors is not withdrawn from Indonesia due to rising interest rates in European and American banks.

Indonesia’s interest at the G20 summit is to convince developed countries to increase their investment in Indonesia, especially in the energy, transportation, and raw materials sectors related to technology and electric vehicles.

We believe that at this G20 meeting, the Indonesian government will offer developed countries the potential to finance and invest in nickel found in Indonesia’s rainforests, especially on the island of Sulawesi. Indonesia harbors ambitions to become a world-class producer of battery raw materials to support worldwide electric vehicle production. The Indonesian government is expected to host an electric vehicle exhibition in one of G20 event with the theme of energy transition.

The Sulawesi Alliance, a coalition of NGOs on Sulawesi Island working to protect human rights and the environment, feels it is important to amplify the aspirations and will of the people on Sulawesi Island to world leaders in the run-up to the G20 meeting. We deem this crucial because the policies of the Indonesian government often do not reflect the will of the people.

Leaders of the G20 countries – especially the United States, Canada, European countries, Japan, China, and Australia – should note that the standard of living of people in Indonesia, especially those living around forests, is currently declining. This especially holds true for farmers and fisherfolk living around nickel mines, smelters and their coal power plants in Sulawesi. Before nickel mining expanded into the rainforests in Sulawesi, farmers in Morowali, North Morowali (Central Sulawesi), East Luwu (South Sulawesi), Konawe, North Konawe, and other districts in Southeast Sulawesi could rely on two harvests a year.

However, after the nickel mines and smelters began operating, local communities experienced numerous crop failures because their rice fields were polluted by mining sludge and smelter waste. Farmers were forced to sell their rice fields because they were no longer viable.

PT Vale Indonesia mining location

The pollution of rivers and seas is an inevitable impact of nickel mining and smelting. Leaders of countries promoting electric vehicles should be aware that the nickel mines and smelters in Sulawesi are not only destroying the rainforests, but also impacts the coastlines. With every rainfall, mining mud is washed into the Malili River in South Sulawesi, turning it red. The mud is carried out to sea, polluting the coastline, decimating fish stocks and impacting the livelihoods of fishing families, forcing them to sail further out than before to catch fish.

The same holds true in Lampia Village, Malili Regency, South Sulawesi, where the mud of the former mine directly pollutes the sea. WALHI South Sulawesi team has observed that nickel mining mud contamination on the Lampia coast has reached 100 meters into the sea, also affecting the mangrove forests on the coast of Lampia. This has dramatically impacted the livelihoods of Lampia fishing families.

Women are also experiencing the negative impacts of nickel mining. Women in Sorowako, especially Indigenous Karonsie women, have had their dreams of a self-sufficient life shattered by nickel mines and smelters owned by Canadian and Japanese companies that have decimated their ability cultivating their own land.

Their customary agricultural land have been taken by nickel mining companies without compensation – some plots of land have even converted into a company-owned golf course. They no longer have access to clean water and are forced to consume dirty river water polluted with nickel mine mud. Their current settlement has been fenced off in utter disrespect of the customary land rights of the Indigenous Karonsie people.

The expansion of the most recent nickel mining sites in South Sulawesi has led to evictions and the seizure of community-owned pepper gardens that gave local people a good income, supporting their families for many years.

Rain forest destruction which has an impact on the loss of people’s livelihoods, especially women, also occurs in Central and Southeast Sulawesi. In central Sulawesi, precisely in Morowali and North Morowali Regencies, fishermen have to resign themselves to losing their incomes because the coasts and seas that have been the source of their livelihoods have been polluted with mining sludge and tailings waste from former nickel mines and nickel smelters funded by Chinese companies.

As a result, fishermen decided to stop fishing and chose to become construction workers and smelter factory workers, earning far less than they did when they were fishermen.

PT GNI Smelter in North Morowali

Apart from the profound impacts of nickel mines and smelters on the forests, rivers, coasts and communities of Sulawesi Island, we firmly believe that nickel, batteries and electric vehicles are not a panacea to the global climate crisis for the following reasons:

  1. Increasing the production of nickel in Indonesia, as well as the production of batteries and electric vehicles in the global North, directly contributes to the destruction of rainforests, especially those on Sulawesi Island. These rainforests are a vital resource for local communities and the world given the threat of climate change. Rainforests on Sulawesi Island sequester carbon emitted by factories in Indonesia, as well as industries and fossil fuel power plants in the global North. It is therefore very misleading to call the electric vehicle industry – whose raw materials are obtained from the destruction of rainforests – an environmentally friendly industry that is a solution to climate change.
  2. 80 percent of the energy that powers nickel smelters in Sulawesi is sourced from coal-fired power plants. This is contrary to the principles of sustainable development, environmentally friendly business practices, and climate change mitigation strategies that are currently being voiced by world leaders. The use of coal-fired power in smelters actually doubles the emissions associated with producing nickel.
  3. By increasing demand for coal, an increase in nickel production in Sulawesi also accelerates forest destruction on other islands, especially Kalimantan, the major center of coal mining activity in Indonesia. As long as producing electric vehicles involves destroying rainforests in Sulawesi and Kalimantan and increasing carbon emissions, they cannot be deemed a solution to climate change.
  4. The final consideration is the use of coal energy power to charge electric vehicles. As long as fossil fuels are the most widespread source of electrical power in the world, damage tot he environment will continue unabated. As more and more people use electric cars, nickel and coal mines will continue to eat their way into the rainforests, and an increasing number of coal-fired power plants will be built.

Therefore, investments and financing in the nickel industry in Indonesia, especially on Sulawesi Island, further strengthens the rate of rainforest destruction which contributes to the increasingly rapid pace of climate change. Vulnerable Indigenous and local communities are further impoverished, because their sources of livelihood are so negatively impacted – and even disappearing.

To save the remaining rainforests in Indonesia and to protect lives of the people, especially the women and children on the island of Sulawesi, we, the Sulawesi Alliance, representing all communities, farmers and fishing families affected by environmental destruction due to the mining and nickel industries, call on the leaders of the G20 countries, especially the President of China, Xi Jinping, as well as the major multilateral development banks, to make a firm commitment to end investment in nickel mines, nickel smelter construction, the battery industry, and associated coal-fired power plants in Indonesia, especially on Sulawesi Island.

We also demand that political and business leaders in G20 countries stop promoting electric vehicles as an environmentally friendly alternative and as a solution to the climate crisis.

We concretely demand:

  1. That the leaders of Group 20 countries, especially the President of America, China, the Prime Minister of Canada, Japan, Britain, the Leaders of the European Union, and the Chancellor of Germany make a firm commitment to stop supporting investments that destroy rainforests around the world, especially on the island of Sulawesi. We concretely demand a stop to investment support in the mining sector, especially nickel mining.
  2. That international financial institutions stop financing the mining sector, especially nickel mining in Indonesia. This also includes financing to build supporting coal power plants to power nickel smelters. International financial institutions must shift financing and investment to sustainable businesses, especially those that protect rainforests around the world.
  3. To the Indonesian government, especially President Jokowi, to immediately stop issuing mining business permits, especially nickel mining business permits. In addition, we demand that President Jokowi revoke the mining permits that have damaged the rainforests on Sulawesi Island and other islands in Indonesia.

Finally, we also call on people around the world to support the Alliance and the people of Sulawesi to stop the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia, especially in Sulawesi. Protecting the rainforests is the most powerful way of preserving life on our planet

Makassar, November 14, 2022

Sulawesi Alliance:
Sunardi, Executive Director of WALHI Central Sulawesi
Theo Runtuwene, Executive Director of WALHI North Sulawesi
Muhammad Al Amin, Executive Director of WALHI South Sulawesi
Saharuddin, Executive Director of WALHI Southeast Sulawesi
Asnawi, Executive Director of WALHI West Sulawesi

We are support this statement:

  1. Satya Bumi
  2. Green Youth Movement
  3. Just Finance International