Australia and Indonesia keep talking about a 'green economy’ — but what does that look like? – ABC News

Australia and Indonesia keep talking about a 'green economy’ — but what does that look like?
Every day, the factory Mohamad Lutfi runs in East Java turns 50 tonnes of plastic waste into pallets.
Like many Indonesians, Mr Lutfi has seen massive amounts of plastic waste polluting the land, oceans and rivers near his home in Pasuruan.
While plastic is a problem, the waste is also a resource for his employer, Re>Pal, an Indonesia-based Australian company.
They work with local "pemulung", or "waste-pickers", who collect plastic from waterways to sell.
The company also takes plastic waste from other businesses.
It is then transformed back into usable items like pallets.
Mr Lutfi said Re>Pal's recycling initiative set an example for how to "reduce plastic waste in Indonesia and the whole world".
The work of Re>Pal is one case of a joint climate-focussed business involving Indonesia and Australia.
But the company's director, Marcus Goldstein, said potential cooperation between the two countries was not being fully harnessed.
"Progress between the countries has definitely not been as fast as it could be," Mr Goldstein said.
"That's where I think we've failed: Australia really could do more to spend more effort and time in Indonesia."
Environmentalists in Indonesia claim that among the thousands of tonnes of paper bales sent to East Java are household waste items including faeces-contaminated nappies.
His comments come after two recent significant international meetings, the G20 summit and the COP26 conference, highlighted the climate change policies of both Indonesia and Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison formally confirmed at Glasgow that Australia would commit to a target of net zero emissions by 2050, but Australia's approach to climate change was criticised.
The G20 also put the spotlight back on a joint commitment between the two countries to work together towards a "green economy”, after Indonesia's President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a statement on "the green economy and energy transition".
But what is the "green economy" and why does this phrase keep cropping up in politicians' speeches and statements?
Hal Hill, a professor of South-East Asian economies at the Australian National University's Crawford School of Public Policy, said it was difficult to pinpoint 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.
"The general idea is taking the environment more seriously. At the moment, it means trying to decarbonise the economy quickly — that's one dimension."
He says in a "green economy", economic growth is environmentally sustainable and companies use renewable resources and clean energy.
The UN Environment Programme defines a green economy as "low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive" and one that prevents "the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services".
The term "green economy" also cropped up at the COP21 conference in 2015, when Australia's then-foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop delivered a speech discussing Australia's transformation to a green economy, driven by solar power and electric vehicles, in collaboration with Indonesia.
Since then, organisations across Australia and Indonesia, like Climate Works and the Global Green Growth Institute, have set out strategies for achieving these green ambitions.
But Professor Hill pointed out that governments and experts had been talking about the "green economy" for about 50 years before it was used in agreements between Australia and Indonesia.
"It's not a new concept. People have been worrying about all these issues, but they've become really important as the irrefutable evidence has come through about global warming," he said.
"The general scientific consensus is, the world's heading for really serious climate problems — possibly climate catastrophe unless we can cap global warming at no higher than 1.5 degrees [Celsius] increase, so it's one of the most urgent problems facing the world at the moment."
That target is unlikely to be met, and the Earth is estimated to reach 1.5C warming during the 2030s, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's August 2021 report.
Peter McCawley, an honorary associate professor at the Australian National University, said Indonesia and Australia's reliance on coal exports created issues.
"Indonesia and Australia are the number one and two coal exporting countries in the world … if you've got countries that are heavily dependent on coal for their exports, there's a major dilemma in moving towards becoming green," he said.
A landmark trade deal with Indonesia is being touted by the Federal Government as a key opportunity to bounce back from Australia's first recession in 29 years.
Australia did not sign up to a pledge made by dozens of countries at the COP26 Glasgow talks, including Indonesia, to phase out coal-fired power. The United States, India and China also failed to sign on.
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo also attracted 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 had seen an area of forest three-and-a-half times the size of Bali destroyed.
Soon after that criticism, the organisation's directors were reported to the police and accused of spreading fake news.
Professor McCawley said if the two countries were to cooperate in a meaningful way Australia should "step up" with a "revamped economic cooperation program", including support for infrastructure development and an increase in foreign aid.
"It's difficult to have cooperative programs [between] Australia and Indonesia if there isn't foreign aid supporting them," he said.
"It would be helpful if there was a plan and a commitment, [but] you can't avoid the issue of money."
Jennifer Mathews, national president of the Australia-Indonesia Business Council, said encouraging Australian businesses to take the initiative to engage with their Indonesian counterparts was crucial.
"It's always coming back to understanding Indonesian priorities … and then looking at what we have in terms of our capabilities, our expertise, which might then align with that," Ms Mathews said.
"That's where you get the best success, where you have that alignment."
Paul Bartlett is the director of the organisation tasked with implementing the free trade agreement, or the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, that came into force in July 2020.
He said there were many areas for cooperation between Australia and Indonesia on climate-friendly businesses, like electric vehicles.
"Australia is a leading exporter of critical minerals … and has expertise in energy efficiency and technology solutions for renewables – all of which can contribute to Indonesia's ambition to become a regional hub for electric vehicle manufacturing."
The ABC approached the Department of Foreign Affairs for comment.
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