Reenergising Indo-Pacific relations: Australia’s clean energy opportunity

By James Bowen

The Indo-Pacific sits at the heart of the global shift from fossil fuels to clean energy systems. The region is home to many of the world’s most energy-intensive economies and this will only increase over time. Many Indo-Pacific countries are also key providers of the materials required for clean energy systems. Progress on climate change will depend on meeting the region’s needs and maximising its abilities.

The energy transition will transform future regional relations. Renewable energy could provide many countries with enhanced self-sufficiency and diminish the problematic interdependencies that fossil fuels sustain. However, a whole new set of relationships is already arising around the critical minerals, technologies, resources, and industrial goods that underpin clean energy systems.

Clean energy supply chains and relationships must be diversified. China currently dominates many Indo-Pacific and global clean energy sectors and reaps most of the associated economic and strategic benefits. This has created vulnerabilities for the energy transition and broader system of Indo-Pacific relations. Other countries have untapped potential to improve supply chain resilience and create a fairer, more equitable, and well-governed Indo-Pacific transition. Australia and its allies and partners – particularly its Quad partners the United States, India, and Japan – could play a key role in this.

The Indo-Pacific requires a new multilateral framework for managing the energy transition. It is vital that developing states in sub-regions such as the Pacific and South and Southeast Asia are included in clean energy networks. It is also vital to guard against geopolitical risks from the energy transition, including harmful new interdependencies, difficult national transitions, and new ‘resource curses’. A broad-based framework for guiding future development would best ensure these needs are met.

The time is right to accelerate clean energy and associated climate action. Energy market chaos caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine has consolidated the affordability and availability advantages of clean energy over fossil fuels in many regions. A well-resourced and highly coordinated response could turn crisis into opportunity. Placing more emphasis on the energy security and economic and strategic advantages of clean energy could see these become important drivers of decarbonisation. Australia has vast potential to become a clean energy superpower. Australia has been a major beneficiary of the Indo-Pacific’s fossil fuel dependence. Yet it is also well-placed to play a major role in the region’s decarbonised future due to its clean energy assets and geopolitical alignments.

Key actions could secure Australia’s economic and strategic advantage in the Indo-Pacific’s clean energy future. These include developing a dedicated clean energy diplomacy program, providing developing countries with assistance in accessing and participating in supply chains, and helping to develop and lead a truly multilateral framework for meeting regional clean energy needs.

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