Few would now remember how Gordon Wu, a Hong Kong-based businessman, played a transformative role in pioneering Asian infrastructure, particularly in the 1990s.
Mr Wu named his venture Hopewell after the turnpike near Princeton University, a place he was very proud of having attended.
One of the countries he had greatest impact on was Indonesia, with his projects laying the basis for economic growth in parts of the archipelago. That’s even though the 1997-98 Asia Financial Crisis wrested his prized power plants from his control.
I mention Wu as a transformative figure because something very significant, with similar long-term potential, is taking off and sparking a new era in Indonesia right now.
The development is important because the run-up to Cop28 opening in Dubai on November 30 could see two coal-heavy economies, Indonesia and Poland, making some of the most significant progress in the battle against climate change.
Indonesia has already announced ambitious plans to increase its renewable energy mix. The South-east Asian giant is a developing economy but has still been able to pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2060 or sooner.
The nation has already committed to a 29 per cent cut in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. In fact, it is ready to commit to a 41 per cent reduction with greater international support.
Last week, a leading Indonesian official told The National the country would announce at Cop28 it is advancing its plans to actively start phasing out coal in 2040. The exit plan could be brought forward by a decade after an innovative deal with advanced economies to unlock $20 billion to accelerate the green transition. Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said she had pushed “very hard” for a new commitment. “It’s already in the pipeline,” she said. “We are preparing and are going to announce it. If it fails, it’s something beyond me.”
Her boss President Joko Widodo recently launched the country’s first carbon exchange, a platform for companies looking to offset emissions, the first tangible outcome of the Just Energy Transition Partnership. He says the scheme has valuable lessons for the global community to replicate progress. And cutting coal use is the most likely place for the fast-growing Indonesian economy to prove itself.
The UAE renewables powerhouse Masdar is helping Indonesia with the infrastructure investments to take the strain away from coal-powered stations. It is a development that fits in with the tradition of tapping overseas investment and expertise for the country’s infrastructure. Masdar launched the first phase of what will be a more than 500-megawatt floating solar power plant in Indonesia.
Masdar is also an active investor in Poland, where it has used the capital to build more than 50 megawatts of wind-power capacity from turbines in the north of the country.
Poland is the EU’s sleeping giant when it comes to the climate battle but a new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) points to the potential for a great leap forward.
The starting point is certainly one from which to play catch-up. It is estimated that 85 per cent of Poland’s energy is derived from fossil fuels. As much as 70 of electricity is generated from coal. The figure compares to a European average of less than 16 per cent. The country is to date committed to closing its last coal mine in 2049.
Yet behind this dependency, Poland is starting to shift dramatically. It accounted for 60 per cent of the European emissions reductions last year, according to ECFR. Renewables such as wind rose to almost 21 per cent of electricity production last year.
Even the current government, which has been somewhat reluctant to openly embrace what’s known as the green agenda, has brought in some innovative schemes that are making a difference. Its clean air programme for cities and energy for villages has encouraged switching to renewables and the sales of environmentally friendly heat pumps place the country eighth in the EU league table.
Industry is starting to tap the Polish market. Bosch is set to build a large heat pump factory in the country.
Meanwhile, a scheme called My Electricity has promoted the rise of the “prosumer” (producers and consumers) with half a million households fitting solar panels to both power their homes and feed the grid. All this is laying the groundwork for a more dramatic transformation. If the government does make new commitments on coal, the ECFR report says it could be done as a “national mission” comparable to the drive to join Nato and the EU.
In recent weeks we have seen what it means when major countries flirt with backsliding on the commitments that make up their net-zero plans. The UK is one that has lurched to the wayside. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has retained the 2050 deadline but pushed back the phasing out of diesel and petrol cars from 2030 to 2035.
Last week, The National’s poll of the UK public showed the reaction, with support for the 2050 deadline rising to 57 per cent from 53 per cent just before the announcement. Our poll also showed that people appear to have confidence that renewables can deliver clean and cheap electricity.
The UAE’s investment in renewables in the UK was endorsed by 47 per cent of the population. In a separate question, 48 per cent backed increasing renewable energy production at lower cost.
As in so much else, it is the potential for new progress on the front line of the energy battle that is set to be one of the most exciting elements of Cop28 this year.