Haunted by the adverse effects of coal-fired power plants, a growing number of Indonesians are calling on the government to accelerate its energy transition.

Fair Planet-In the year leading up to his passing in January, 51-year-old Zainal Abidin grappled with lung issues. During this period, he endured persistent breathlessness, frequent coughing and an inability to engage in any meaningful work, confining him to his home where he could only sit or lie down.

Residing in Sei Siur Village, located just five kilometers from the coal-fired power plant (PLTU) in Pangkalan Susu, Langkat Regency, North Sumatra, Indonesia, Abidin had never encountered any significant health issues before.

But in early 2021, symptoms began to emerge. When his family took him to a hospital in Stabat City, about 50 km from his home, an X-rays showed that his lungs were infected and contained fluid.

“The doctor said at the time that he had black lung, and for about a year he was often in and out of the hospital,” Zainal’s sister-in-law, Siti Hadijah, 58, told FairPlanet.

Hadijah said that since PLTU started operating, life in the village has deteriorated. Abidin is not the only resident who has suffered health consequences as a result of the plant.

The government’s dedication to its net-zero pledges came under further scrutiny after it removed coal waste (fly and bottom ash) from the list of toxic and dangerous categories. The Widodo administration also issued regulations on plans to manufacture liquid coal and gas as fuel, a method viewed by many environmental organisations, including Greenpeace Indonesia, WALHI, Trend Asia and Yayasan Srikandi Lestari, as highly dubious.

“This is what [we call] ‘a false solution,’ ” Rimba Nasution, campaign staff member at Yayasan Srikandi Lestari, told FairPlanet.

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Photo by Melvinas Priananda/Trend Asia