Australia and Indonesia keep talking about a “green economy” – but what does it look like?

Every day, Mohamad Lutfi’s factory in East Java transforms 50 tonnes of plastic waste into pallets.

Like many Indonesians, Lutfi has seen massive amounts of plastic waste polluting the land, oceans and rivers near his home in Pasuruan.

If plastic is a problem, waste is also a resource for her employer, Re> Pal, an Australian company based in Indonesia.

They work with local “pemulung” or “waste pickers”, who collect plastic from waterways for sale.

The company also collects plastic waste from other companies.

Mohamad Lutfi says his company shows how to turn waste into useful products.(Provided)

It is then transformed back into usable items such as pallets.

Mr Lutfi said Re> Pal’s recycling initiative was setting an example on how to “reduce plastic waste in Indonesia and around the world”.

Re> Pal’s work is a climate-focused joint venture case involving Indonesia and Australia.

But company director Marcus Goldstein said the potential cooperation between the two countries was not being fully exploited.

“Progress between countries has certainly not been as rapid as it could be,” Goldstein said.

“This is where I think we failed: Australia could really do more to spend more effort and time in Indonesia.”

His comments come after two recent important international meetings, the G20 summit and the COP26 conference, which highlighted the climate change policies of Indonesia and Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has officially confirmed in Glasgow that Australia will commit to a goal of net zero emissions by 2050, but Australia’s approach to climate change has been criticized.

The G20 also highlighted a joint commitment of the two countries to work together towards a “green economy”, after Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a statement on “green economy and energy transition “.

But what is the “green economy” and why does this expression come up over and over again in speeches and statements by politicians?

Scott Morrison and Joko Widodo stand together in costume and talk to each other.
Scott Morrison and Joko Widodo say they are working for green economies.(Provided: Presidential Secretariat, Laily Rachev)

“The green economy could have a thousand different definitions”

Hal Hill, a Southeast Asian economics professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University, said it was difficult to determine exactly what “green economy” collaboration means.

“If you had a thousand people in a room, a green economy could have a thousand different definitions,” he said.

He says that in a “green economy”, economic growth is environmentally sustainable and businesses use renewable resources and clean energy.

The United Nations Environment Program defines a green economy as “low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive” and which prevents “loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services”.

The term “green economy” also popped up at the COP21 conference in 2015, when then Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop delivered a speech on Australia’s transformation to a green economy, fueled by solar energy and electric vehicles, in collaboration with Indonesia.

Julie Bishop is seated at a table surrounded by other officials reading a paper document.
Then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop reads the climate change agreement at COP21.(Julie Bishop / Twitter)

Since then, organizations across Australia and Indonesia, like Climate Works and the Global Green Growth Institute, have defined strategies to achieve these green ambitions.

But Professor Hill pointed out that governments and experts had been talking about a “green economy” for about 50 years before it was used in the agreements between Australia and Indonesia.

“This is not a new concept. People have worried about all of these issues, but they have become very important as the compelling evidence has emerged on global warming,” he said.

“The general scientific consensus is that the world is headed for very serious climate problems – perhaps climate catastrophe unless we can limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees. [Celsius] increase, therefore, it is one of the most pressing problems facing the world today. “

This goal is unlikely to be reached and the Earth is expected to achieve a warming of 1.5 ° C during the 2030s, according to the August 2021 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Wind turbines on a hill surrounded by fields.
Climate change is now an economic as well as a scientific issue. (Reuters: Giuseppe Piazza)

The coal dilemma

Peter McCawley, honorary associate professor at Australian National University, said Indonesia and Australia’s dependence on coal exports was creating problems.

“Indonesia and Australia are the first and second largest coal exporting countries in the world… if you have countries that depend heavily on coal for their exports, there is a major dilemma in going green,” he said. -he declares.

Australia has not subscribed to the pledge made by dozens of countries during the COP26 talks in Glasgow, including Indonesia, to phase out coal-fired electricity. The United States, India and China have not signed either.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo also drew criticism at COP26, when he said in a speech that deforestation levels in Indonesia were at their lowest in 20 years.

Greenpeace Indonesia said that since Mr. Widodo became president in 2014, Indonesia has seen an area of ​​forest three and a half times the size of Bali destroyed.

Shortly after these criticisms, the directors of the organization were reported to the police and accused of spreading false news.

Australia called to “step up”

Professor McCawley said if the two countries were to cooperate in any meaningful way, Australia would have to “step up” with a “revamped economic cooperation program”, including support for infrastructure development and increased foreign aid.

“It’s difficult to have cooperative programs [between] Australia and Indonesia if there is no foreign aid to support them, “he said.

Jennifer Mathews, National Chairperson of the Australia-Indonesia Business Council, said it was crucial to encourage Australian businesses to take the initiative to engage with their Indonesian counterparts.

Jennifer Mathews smiles as she poses for a head and shoulder photo.
Jennifer Mathews says Australia and Indonesia need to build on each other’s strengths.(Provided)

“It’s always about understanding Indonesian priorities… and then looking at what we have in terms of capabilities, expertise, which could then align with that,” Ms. Mathews said.

“That’s where you have the best success, where you have that alignment.”

Paul Bartlett is the director of the organization responsible for implementing the Indonesia-Australia Free Trade Agreement, or Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which entered into force in July 2020.

He said there are many areas of cooperation between Australia and Indonesia on climate-friendly businesses, such as electric vehicles.

“Australia is a major exporter of essential minerals… and has expertise in energy efficiency and technological solutions for renewable energy, all of which can contribute to Indonesia’s ambition to become a regional hub. for the manufacture of electric vehicles.

The ABC has contacted the Foreign Office for comment.

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