The oldest coal mine in Indonesia, Ombilin Sawahlunto, located in West Sumatra, is nominated by the Indonesian government as a World Heritage site at the 43rd World Heritage Committee congress held in Baku, Azerbaijan. As a country that has abundant natural and cultural wealth, Indonesia certainly has many choices of valuable natural and cultural wealth which should be considered a priority for immediate recognition of world heritage site, such as the Batang Toru ecosystem or the Leuser ecosystem as a whole, home for endangered charismatic flora and fauna.
On July 5-6, the World Heritage Committee is expected to give vote for the inscription of sites proposed by State Parties. The Indonesian government nominates the Ombilin Sawahlunto Coal Mining site for its “technological ensemble planned and built by European engineers in their colonies designed to extract strategic coal resources” (Page 27). The nomination of this site meets two criteria, (ii) to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design; (iv) to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;
However, in regard of proposed site which was a former mining site of PT Tambang Baturbara Ombilin, if the Indonesian government aims at making this former mining site a culture and tourism city, the regional government should cease all coal mining activities in Sawahlunto which have potentials of damaging the environment, triggering land conflicts and damaging the city’s image as a safe and comfortable tourism site. To date, WALHI has noted that there are at least 13 coal mining industries that are still operating there.
Uslaini, Executive Director of WALHI West Sumatra stated, “If Sawahlunto is nominated to be a world heritage site, Sawahlunto should improve the city and stop all illegal mining activities that are still carried out massively until today on the rivers and area which become the main entrance to Sawahlunto. ”
In addition to that, the regional government of Sawahlunto should pay serious attention to the Ombilin Coal Power Plant, which to this day still emits Fly Ash and Bottom Ash pollution in an alarming amount by regulating the operation of Coal Power Plants in Sijantang Village, Talawi District, Sawahlunto City.
Historically, Sawahlunto Coal Mine was the first mining that was established in Indonesia during the Dutch colonialization. The mining site had enslaved many people during its time. Over the years the coal activitiess have also had a negative impact on the surrounding communities and have contributed greatly to climate change.
Although other coal mines have been nominated and inscribed in the past, Indonesian government should have sought to nominate sites that truly reflect the Outstanding Universal Values (OUVs), especially given the role of coal in driving climate change, and there are many other natural and cultural sites that need immediate recognition and protection.
If the coal mining site nominations continue in the future, should the World Heritage Center allow the nomination of sites that use fossil fuels which are the main factors driving climate change?