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28 Nov 2022


The dirty road to clean energy: How China’s electric vehicle boom is ravaging the environment


A few hundred meters from Kurisa is a coal plant that powers the nearby Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP), a massive industrial complex occupied mostly by nickel-related industries and managed by a Chinese-Indonesian joint venture. Residents complain that IMIP’s operations, which started in 2015, have led to polluted waters.

Fishermen complain that the ocean's temperature has increased as a result of exhaust from the cooling system of the coal plant, driving the fish away. [...] IMIP did not respond to Rest of World's requests for comment.


Indonesia aims to secure its position in the global chain of EV production with help from a powerful partner, China. Now, instead of exporting raw nickel ore, Chinese companies are partnering with Indonesian companies to export refined nickel products, such as nickel matte, which is a crucial component of many EV batteries.


Yudhoyono’s successor, Widodo, recognized further opportunities early in his presidency, and signed more deals with Chinese companies to build smelters there. According to the manpower ministry, around 66,000 people work for IMIP, including around 5,000 Chinese workers.


Coal is the main source of energy for the industrial park [...] Data shared with Rest of World by the community health center of Bahodopi shows that, since 2018, upper respiratory infections have been at the top of the list of diseases in the district — nearly 7,000 cases in total — with health workers claiming that the dust from the industrial complex is the main culprit.

Residents that Rest of World spoke to complained of the impact IMIP has had on their local environment. [...]The drilling went on day and night, Aswin told Rest of World , until he and other residents decided to confront the workers.[...] Before the drilling, Aswin had already put up with the dust from ore-hauling trucks passing by the front road.

A three-hour drive from Halmahera's quiet Loleo port lies Lelilef Sawai, a coastal village home to the Weda Bay Industrial Park (IWIP), an industrial complex similar to IMIP.


Local residents told Rest of World that while some young people enjoy the steady monthly income, others would prefer to stick to the old way of life. But with IWIP pressuring owners to sell their land, and polluting the environment, this becomes harder to maintain.

A report from independent research group Corporate Accountability Research (CAR) found that residents who rejected the company’s offers received threats and intimidation. One woman said that two police officers visited her house regularly after she refused to sell her land, the report noted. It added that the joint venture company behind IWIP had rejected the accusation of breaching consent and consultation standards.

Around 21% of the company’s mining area is within “protected forest areas,” which contain the generational agricultural lands that support the livelihood of most families, the CAR report said. The research found that the company offered some people in the communities 8,000 rupiah ($0.50) per square meter.


According to the local residents, the state's police and military are often posted to “guard” land while it is being taken over by the company. [...] IWIP helped construct the building.


“In total, China controls 61% of the total national nickel production, while [our] state-owned enterprises only control 5%.”

Part of the following timelines

Indonesia Weda Bay Industrial Park (IWIP)

Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP)