In the smoggy streets of Jakarta, Heiner von Luepke is an advocate for the environment. The six-foot-tall expat from Germany begins with his own life choices, like riding a bike to work every day, but he’s also trying to clean up the country at large.
As a climate change adviser for the German NGO GIZ, von Luepke is working to curb global warming in Indonesia, which is in the top-five list of developing countries with the highest rates of greenhouse gas emissions. Here, he discusses his work with the Indonesian government, his passion for distance running and a few simple ways that everyone can live a more eco-friendly life.
What kind of projects are you working on in Indonesia?
I work for GIZ, a company that’s partly owned by the German government. I’m currently focusing on the climate change negotiations between the Indonesian government and the German government, which is what brought me here originally.
Do you work with a particular Indonesian organization?
I work closely with the National Development Planning Agency [Bappenas], which is my main counterpart. It’s responsible for developing the action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
Why did you decide to focus on climate change in Indonesia?
Years ago, there was an NGO study financed by the World Bank and a report by the British government, and they showed how Indonesia has really high rate of gas emissions, just behind the US and China. So the topic came up at the 2007 Climate Change Conference in Bali.
Nobody was really expecting Indonesia to be mentioned like that in the reports. It was controversial because of the uncertainty. For example, palm oil plantations emit a lot of greenhouse gas, but it’s hard to know how much.
How do you measure greenhouse gas emissions?
You can estimate it, but it’s hard to measure exactly because Indonesia is so diverse with so many ecosystems, from Sumatra to Papua. But from my experience in East Kalimantan, I know deforestation led to a higher per capita emissions rate there than in the US or China.
What’s it like to work with Indonesians?
I really appreciate what they do, though I can’t say that there is one type of Indonesian. Stereotypically, Germans are direct people, straight to the point. But working with Indonesians helps us get the job done and go places that otherwise would be closed.
Part of my job is bringing people together and finding a common interest.
In Jakarta, is traffic still the major cause of emissions?
It’s obviously a significant cause of pollution here. The government has to regulate, maybe by restricting cars and motorcycles to 20 liters of fuel or to 100 kilometers of driving every week. It can also build greener office buildings, apartments and malls, even starting with lighting and window designs. Unless Jakarta reduces traffic, provides a good mass public transportation system and improves its waste management, it will never be a green city.
Do you enjoy living in Jakarta?
Within moments of arriving in a city, I can usually tell whether I’ll like it. When I first came to Jakarta, I felt like I was able to find my niche immediately.
In the beginning, I lived in Kemang, then I moved to Menteng, Mega Kuningan and finally an apartment in Sudirman. I think what I need is a place where I can run in the early morning with humane temperatures and not much traffic, which I can do on [Jalan] Sudirman on Sundays. Four and a half years later, here I am.
So, you’re a runner ?
Yes, I’m a runner, and it’s a challenge to be one in Jakarta. I usually run from my apartment to Gelora Bung Karno. I’ve joined several marathon competitions in the city over the years. When you run in the morning and you’re still sleepy, you have to be really careful and watch the road, especially crossing Casablanca. It’s quiet dangerous, seriously! [Laughs]
What steps do you take in your own life to be greener?
To reduce my own carbon footprint, I use a bicycle. The only downside is getting sweaty before meetings [laughs]. I really like the idea of Bike to Work [bicycle community], people can enjoy the outdoors.
The biggest thing that I feel guilty about is a trip I took between Europe and Indonesia because the flight emissions are so high.
Where do you go to relax in this busy city?
I play sports to keep my mind balanced. I also listen to punk music, so sometimes I watch live bands at a bar in Menteng, and I also enjoy eating out or getting drinks at Die Stube, a German pub and restaurant in Kemang.
Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?
Not just an environmentalist, but actually also a professional forester. I started working on climate change when there were still ongoing negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol, which aimed to fight global warming and deforestation.
A climate change forester isn’t a career that many people know about, but I take it as a challenge to be on the front lines, trying to find new solutions and implementing a climate program on behalf of the German government.
Heiner von Luepke was talking to Iwan Putuhena
Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe