This week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese welcomed leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states and Timor Leste for a special ASEAN summit in Melbourne, where – for the first time – climate and clean energy featured as a key agenda item.

ASEAN is an organisation in Southeast Asia that includes 10 member countries and, as a group, represents the fifth-largest economy globally.

It’s Australia’s second-largest trading partner, representing about 15% of its total trade, and has been a strong partner for Australia’s international education sector, due its young population and strong economic growth trajectory.

I attended and spoke at the summit, as part of the new climate collaboration agenda, which has been added alongside its traditional economic, security and education priorities.

Climateworks Centre chair John Thwaites (left) speaks during a forum on ‘Accelerating the Clean Energy Transition’ at the 2024 ASEAN Special Summit in Melbourne. Climateworks Southeast Asia Lead Trang Nguyen sits on right. Other members of the panel include Datin Seri Sunita Rajakumar, Khamlar Phonsavat and Eric Francia. (Supplied: 2024 ASEAN Special Summit)

After 50 years of Australia acting as a key dialogue partner with ASEAN, it’s a welcome step to see climate added to the main agenda, as it’s not only a single standalone issue, but also a crosscutting theme that impacts other prioritised areas.

Strengthening collaboration on climate change and the energy transition will create significant opportunities for economic, security and education cooperation.

Renewable energy and other clean industries are central to the economic prosperity of both Australia and many ASEAN countries. Australia has long positioned itself as a renewable energy superpower, capable of exporting its clean resources to the world.

That transition is underway. The same has been said for many ASEAN countries. Southeast Asia also has strong manufacturing capabilities.

Perfect time for collaboration

These factors, together with the existing favourable trade terms through the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA), make now the perfect time for Australia and ASEAN to work together to strengthen green economy collaboration and position the region as an attractive global manufacturing hub for renewable technologies.

Security comes into focus when you look at the extremely concentrated nature of the existing global supply chain of critical minerals.

The expanding capacities and increasing supply chain resilience across Australia and Southeast Asia has significant geopolitical implications. Any potential disruption of the supply chain, such as higher commodity prices or geopolitical tensions, could have major economic implications, either delaying the clean energy transition, or making it more expensive.

Both Australia and Southeast Asia can help diversify the global supply due to their abundant natural resources and strong renewable energy potential for green mining, as well as the processing and production of critical minerals and commodities.

A diverse, secure and sustainable supply chain of critical minerals is crucial for global and regional economic and energy security.

Skilled workforce is vital

Last but not least is education. A just energy transition cannot happen without a skilled workforce. That’s the case in Southeast Asia, and here in Australia.

The Indonesian Just Energy Transition Partnerships Comprehensive Investment and Policy Plan estimated 383,000 new jobs will be created in Indonesia alone by 2030, with a large proportion of managerial, technical and highly-skilled professionals.

Across the region, the increase in renewable energy uptake will create 5.5 million new jobs by 2050. The estimation has not yet included those opportunities beyond the engineering sector.

In many years to come, investors need to understand the associated climate risks of their investment portfolio, economists will run modelling taking into account pricing on carbon emissions, and climate diplomacy will be a fundamental part of diplomatic dialogues and international forums. The workforce required is huge and far-reaching.

Climateworks Centre has been advocating for years for strengthened collaboration between Australia and Southeast Asia to work together to achieve the global 1.5°C goal enshrined in the Paris Agreement, and to accelerate economic cooperation towards the low-carbon transition.

As part of that work, Climateworks is currently hosting a group of 15 fellows, from across Southeast Asia as part of the Australia Award Fellowship Program’s Southeast Asia Just Energy Transition. The fellows and Monash University experts discussed the role of universities in accelerating the energy transition, especially here in Australia.

Trang Nguyen and the fellows from across Southeast Asia, part of the Australia Award Fellowship Program’s Southeast Asia Just Energy Transition, outside the Victorian Parliament.
Trang Nguyen and the fellows from across Southeast Asia, part of the Australia Award Fellowship Program’s Southeast Asia Just Energy Transition, outside the Victorian Parliament. (Climateworks Centre: Simon Leo Brown)

Significant opportunities exist for Australia to holistically transform the education sector. This transformation would not only help accelerate green skills domestically, but also support ASEAN countries in their decarbonisation journeys using the existing international education partnership.

The focus of Australia’s climate diplomacy, economic and trade priorities has shifted towards Southeast Asia in recent years, recognising potential to cooperate on common climate mitigation priorities and address shared challenges.

As the two regions look to build closer ties, it’s important Australia utilises its comprehensive strategic partnership with ASEAN to share knowledge and advance areas for collaboration, to accelerate the energy transition and green economy.

This article was first published on Monash Lens. Read the original article