Dr Alue Dohong drives Indonesia’s green capital

19 Nov 2021

Dr Alue Dohong drives Indonesia’s green capital

Winner of the 2021 Alumni of the Year Award

What will Indonesia’s future capital look like? Vice Minister of Environment and Forestry Dr Alue Dohong has offered a sneak-peak at plans for the country’s newest city.

“The government’s mission for the new capital is ‘Forest City, Sustainable City’. We want to restore the forests in Kalimantan. It will be the signature of the new capital city,” said Dr Dohong, the winner of 2021 Alumni of the Year Award.

The buildings and spaces in the new capital city that are built in East Kalimantan’s Penajam Paser Utara Regency will complement the surrounding natural forest coverage. Land with degraded forests will be restored as habitat for endemic species.

Not only that, the new capital will also have a massive plant nursery that can produce 20 million to 50 million seeds per year. The nursery will supply seeds for reforestation in the new capital and other provinces in Kalimantan.

The capital will be powered by new and renewable energy. The project also aims to restore degraded wetlands and mangroves on the coast and in the Mahakam River delta.

Environmental safeguards

When President Joko Widodo announced the plan to move the country’s capital city from Jakarta to East Kalimantan, concerns resurfaced that the mega project may worsen the already rapid deforestation in Kalimantan.

According to a study in 2019 from the Centre for International Forestry Research, (CIFOR), Borneo lost 6.04 million hectares of old-growth forest from 2000 to 2017, a 14% decline. The Indonesian part of Borneo, which accounts for 73% of the island’s territory, lost the most forest at 3.74 million hectares. (https://forestsnews.cifor.org/59378/has-borneos-deforestation-slowed-down?fnl=)

The Environmental and Forestry Ministry has a crucial task to ensure the new capital project will have minimal impacts on the environment, said Dr Dohong, who graduated with a PhD in Environmental Management from the University of Queensland in 2016, under an Australia Awards Scholarship.

“The ministry is conducting strategic environmental studies,” he said. “We look into the carrying capacity of the environment there. There should be safeguards to manage the environment and the forests so that the new capital can meet its vision as an environmentally friendly, sustainable, and forest city.”

Dr Dohong’s forest city concept was inspired by Australia’s capital, Canberra, known as “the bush capital”. Canberra is surrounded by nature reserves and is dotted with green spaces.

“It’s not just greening the capital, but it (the capital) can become an ecotourism icon,” said Dr Dohong.

Environmental leadership

Designing Indonesia’s new capital is of great importance for Dr Dohong, the first Dayak person to become a member of the government’s cabinet.

Growing up with a connection to nature, Dr Dohong understands the challenges of natural resource management facing Kalimantan, home to some of the world’s richest biodiversity.

One of the crucial issues is forest tenurial rights for Dayak tribes. To minimise future land conflict in the new capital and to save tribal lands for tribal owners, Dr Dohong has organised an inventory of traditional Dayak lands in the area of the new capital. The activity was conducted in May 2021, with several Dayak stakeholders.

Before his work as one of Indonesia’s top environmental officials, Dr Dohong founded the Institute for Environmental Assessment, Education and Training (LP3LH) in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, in 2004.

When he returned to Indonesia after completing his PhD in Australia, Dr Dohong was appointed as a Deputy for Construction, Operation and Maintenance at the Peatland Restoration Agency (Badan Restorasi Gambut) or BRG.

This agency has been tasked with restoring two million hectares of degraded peatlands in seven provinces by 2020.

Degraded peatlands are key factors in Indonesia’s annual forest fires, which often cause transborder air pollution issues with neighbouring countries. Dry peat can easily catch fire and is difficult to extinguish.

Dr Dohong implemented the results of his doctorate research for the agency’s peatland conservation program.

The program uses an approach called “3R”. This consists of rewetting degraded peatland by building canal blocks and artesian wells, replanting the already wet peatlands, and revitalising local livelihood.

“I used the knowledge and expertise from my study in Australia to develop the 3R approach,” said Dr Dohong, who won the 2007 Wetlands International President’s Medal for Staff Excellence.

Dr Dohong received the award for outstanding leadership in wetland management and developing relationships with and encouraging the involvement of local stakeholders.

Support from Australian networks

Dr Dohong led BRG for three years before President Joko Widodo appointed him as the Vice Minister of Environment and Forestry in October 2019.

“I have more responsibilities. Not just peatland restoration, but also forest ecosystem and other environmental issues, such as waste and water quality,” he said.

Dr Dohong said his long involvement with the Australian alumni network has provided valuable support during his time as the vice minister.

“My study in Queensland helps me formulate Indonesia’s environmental policies and to give technical guidance within the ministry,” said Dr Dohong.

“The Australian alumni network is also strategic and important. Australian alumni have various knowledge and technology which help me do my work as a vice minister,” he added.

According to the ministry, Indonesia’s deforestation rate slowed by 75% to 115.46 thousand hectares in 2019-2020, from 462.46 thousand hectares in 2018-2019. (https://www.menlhk.go.id/site/single_post/3645/laju-deforestasi-indonesia-turun-75-03)

Dr Dohong’s partnership with Australian institutions dates back to more than a decade ago. In August 1999, Dr Dohong served as a consultant for AusAID Jakarta and as a participant in Australian Studies Centre training, a collaboration between PKA UI and the Australian Embassy.

He contributed to Kalimantan Forest and Climate Partnership (KFCP), a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-funded program as the Governance and Finance Specialist in 2009-2010.

Dr Dohong said the 2021 Alumni of the Year Award inspires him to continue to develop his capacity, capability, and knowledge.

“Even though I have graduated from a doctorate program, science is always developing,” he said. “Therefore, I need to keep building my capacity and capability to have up-to-date knowledge and to face more complex work that needs a new approach.”

Photo courtesy of Dr Alue Dohong.

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