As a year of fires around the world from Brazil to Australia drew to a close, Indonesia’s capital was having the opposite problem. On the last night of 2019, more than 35 centimeters (14 inches) of rain fell on the sprawling city, causing rivers to burst their banks and inundate thousands of homes. At least 60 people died, with floodwaters rising as high as a single story house.

For Jakarta, a city on the island of Java saddled with some of the worst superlatives in the region⁠—most polluted, most congested, fastest sinking⁠—the floods were an old story, the third time deluges have killed dozens since 2007. The problems have become so overwhelming that, even before the latest catastrophe, President Joko Widodo had decided to build a new capital 1,200 kilometers away on the island of Borneo.

Relocating the Capital

Poor urban planning and decades of pumping groundwater from under the capital city set the stage for floods, and efforts to boost the nation’s economy have made an outsize contribution to the global emissions blamed for rising sea levels.

In the past two decades, more than 25 million hectares of tree cover has been lost, much of it logged or burned to plant oil palms. Worse still, Indonesia is the world’s biggest exporter of the bête noir of global warming⁠—power station coal.

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