One of the plaintiffs is Arif Pujianto. His home was flooded several times in 2022. Water had already forced its way into his house in winter 2021, causing major damage. “It gets worse every year,” says Arif. “Because of climate change, the sea levels are rising, and during storms our flat island has become increasingly flooded.” This threatens his livelihood, as well as those of all 1500 people living on Pari – even though they have done nothing to contribute to the warming of the climate.

The four plaintiffs, Arif, Asmania, Bobby and Edi are fighting back against this injustice. They filed a climate lawsuit against Holcim on behalf of the entire island at the Cantonal Court of Zug in Switzerland. “Our existence is under threat,” says Asmania. “We want those responsible to now finally take action.”

Why Holcim?

Holcim is one the world’s biggest producers of cement, the basic material of concrete, and one of the 50 largest emitters of CO2 out of all companies worldwide. The production of cement releases enormous amounts of CO2. According to a study, between 1950 and 2022, the Swiss corporation released more than 7.3 million tons of CO2. That amounts to 0.42% of all global industrial CO2 emissions since the year 1750 – or more than twice the amount emitted by whole of Switzerland in the same period. Therefore, Holcim bears a significant share of the responsibility for the climate crisis and for the situation on Pari Island.

The first climate litigation against a Swiss company

The plaintiffs are demanding proportional compensation for climate damages they have suffered and for Holcim to contribute financially to flood-protection measures. In addition, they demand that Holcim reduce its CO2 emissions by 43% by 2030 and by 69% by 2040 when compared to the company’s emissions in 2019. This would be in line with the target established in the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. The lawsuit from Indonesia heralds the first formal civil proceedings in Switzerland against a corporation for its contribution to the climate crisis. The lawsuit is based on Swiss civil law. The four Indonesian plaintiffs are suing for a violation of their personality rights (Article 28ss. of the Swiss Civil Code) resulting from past, ongoing and future excessive CO2 emissions of Holcim, which have led and will lead to damages (the claim for damages is based on the Swiss Code of Obligations) on the island. Additionally, a study by the Global Climate Forum[1] now proves that the damages on Pari island are caused by global warming and increasing sea levels. 

Holcim: Too little too late

Holcim’s current climate targets are also far from sufficient in order to achieve the agreed upon goal of the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Holcim is doing too little to reduce its emissions and began the process far too late. More concretely, Holcim is primarily planning to reduce its emissions per ton of cement, instead of implementing an absolute reduction in its emissions. The methods used by the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi), which assesses and validates Holcim’s climate targets, have also been criticised. This is due to the fact that in the allocation of the remaining emissions-budget to individual actors, such methods only serve to reinforce the status quo and do not take the historical responsibility and economic stature of polluting actors into consideration whatsoever.

Standing up for millions of people

The complaint against Holcim is part of a worldwide movement, yet it is only the second climate litigation case brought forward by affected people from the Global South. Furthermore, it is not only calling for Holcim to assume historical responsibly but, also, future responsibility with the demand for the company to rapidly reduce its emissions. For the complainants, this point is central: they are not only filing their complaint to receive compensation for the personal damages they have suffered. They also seek to contribute to preserving the livelihoods of millions of people, primarily in the Global South, whose livelihoods are existentially threatened by the climate crisis.

Supported by several NGOs

This climate lawsuit is supported by several NGOs that are working on climate justice. HEKS/EPER Swiss Church Aid, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the Indonesian environmental organization WAHLI are supporting the complaint by the four Indonesians with the campaign “Call for Climate Justice.” Climate justice means that those responsible for the climate crisis take responsibility for the climate induced loss and damage. It is deeply unjust that the most vulnerable suffering from the consequences of the climate crisis have to pay themselves for their losses and damages and for the needed protection measures.

WALHI climate justice bill

The climate lawsuit filed by four residents of Pari Island cannot be separated from the bad situation from the dire state of the climate crisis in Indonesia, as the largest archipelagic country in the world. The National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) of the Republic of Indonesia noted that in 2022 there would be 1,057 extreme weather events as well as 26 tidal waves and abrasion on the coast and sea. As a result, many traditional fishers cannot go to sea. In Kupang City, East Nusa Tenggara province, for example, a number of fisherfolks have not been able to go to sea for three weeks since December 2022. In addition, three tons of fish caught were lost because a fishing boat was hit by a wave. In 2010, 87 fishermen died due to bad weather, and in 2020 their number rose to 251 people. Clearly, climate disasters are very dangerous for the lives of more than two million traditional fishermen in Indonesia.

Pari Island is a very small island of 42 hectares where the impact of the climate crisis is very visible. The total area of the islandhas decreased by around 11 percent. Apart from that, fishermen on Pari Island used to be able to gain more than 200 kilograms of fish per day but now only gain 10 kilograms. They are very anxious about their future and ask each other, are we safe to live here in the future?

Based on this, WALHI urges the Indonesian Government to assess the impact of the climate crisis and the deaths of fishermen due to climate disasters as a critical situation. For this reason, Indonesia really needs a Climate Change Law. The aim is to uphold climate justice for coastal and small island communities. Climate justice requires several principles; first, demanding a shift from discourse about greenhouse gases and melting ice to a civil rights movement with the people and communities most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis, especially the communities at the center of the crisis.

Second, recognizing the inequitable impact of the climate crisis on low-income communities around the world, especially the people and regions least responsible for the onset of the climate crisis. Third, call for fairness in decision making. This principle supports the approach that the least responsible but most vulnerable people should be active decision makers in national development plans.

Thus, the Pari Island climate lawsuit is an important experiment to advance climate justice legislation in Indonesia.

The Main Points of the Climate Justice Bill

In the Position Paper “Climate Justice Coalition Urges the State to Immediately Draft a Climate Justice Law” it is stated that there are a number of important points, including:[2]

First, the Climate Justice Bill also needs to make the goals of the Paris Agreement the aim of drafting the bill. The goals of the Paris Agreement are: 1) Reducing emissions below 1.5°C; 2) increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of society to the impacts of climate change; 3) prevention and recovery from loss and damage events, and 4) fair climate change funding.

Second, Climate Change Mitigation in the Climate Justice Bill must be oriented towards realizing social justice, including gender justice, and maintaining the integrity of ecosystems based on ecoregions.

Third, there is a need to set adaptation targets and strategies based on carrying capacity as well as vital sectors such as ecosystem resilience, food, water and social.

Fourth, ensure that people who are vulnerable to being affected and experiencing loss and damage receive protection for their rights to a good and healthy environment, the right to life, the right to shelter, the right to health, the right to develop through fulfilling basic needs, the right to food and water, the right to education, the right to a decent living, and a number of other basic rights. Furthermore, opening access to funding, capacity building and technical assistance for affected communities, especially vulnerable groups, namely poor groups, women, children, people with disabilities, indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups.

Fifth, openness of information and access to the widest possible public participation which ensures recognition of all community groups in the community as well as participatory decision-making procedures.

Sixth, the obligation for parties affected by sanctions to repair and restore environmental damage and degradation which results in increased vulnerability and decreased adaptive capacity due to mitigation activities and other development activities.

Seventh, climate financing aims to collect and allocate funds to support mitigation, adaptation and provide access to recovery from losses due to climate change.

In recent years, WALHI has been involved in public debate to ensure that the Climate Justice Bill becomes mainstream discourse. WALHI has been involved in forums attended by members of parliament and senators to ensure this bill becomes a political agenda. Furthermore, WALHI urges this bill to become a commitment for the three Indonesian presidential candidates who run for election on February 14 2024.

[1] Global Climate Forum (in German only, 01/2023): Working Paper: Heutige und zukünftige Auswirkungen des Klimawandels und Meeresspiegelanstiegs auf der Insel Pari

[2] Also see WALHI (in Indonesian only, 08/06/2023): Kertas Posisi Koalisi Keadilan Iklim Mendesak Negara Segera Menyusun UU Keadilan Iklim

About the authors

Parid Ridwanuddin & Yvan Maillard-Ardenti © private / Gaetan Bally

Parid Ridwanuddin is a member of WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia). The environmental organisation supports the four plaintiff residents of Pari Island.

Yvan Maillard-Ardenti works as climate justice expert at HEKS/EPER Swiss Church Aid. He holds a MSc in Environmental Sciences. He also works as lecturer in business and human rights and as organisational transformation coach. Yvan is based in Bern, Switzerland.

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