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Wed. December 19, 2018
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The Dutch Model for Change
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The Netherlands and Indonesia share a special relationship. They were connected for centuries in times of colonialism, separated after the horrible years of Indonesian struggle for independence. Now together, they have entered into a respectful and close relationship based on strong pillars of common history and development, economic and political ties, and many deep, interpersonal equations.

For me, living in Bandung, the former Paris van Jawa, a modern Indonesian metropole where the government of West Java is located, it is always surprising to see the respect Indonesian people have towards European countries and the Netherlands in specific. It is, perhaps, part of the open and friendly culture among its citizens in general but it may also be a realistic view that such a huge country like Indonesia can only be developed with ongoing support and expertise from the outside world.

With regards to industry, this support interestingly comes more and more from North East Asia; from Korea, Japan, and from China, while western countries are loosing ground. USA is successfully managing its moral and economic outsider position under its current administration, and Europe seems divided, giving the impression of of small nations acting of their own accord via isolated representations in Indonesia.

In the eyes of Indonesia, however, Europe is strong in three areas: democracy, technology, and the environment. While the first may be a source for many fascinating articles and books, I would like to focus on the other ones, especially on the different meaning and understanding of the environment in the context of a highly industrialized economic conglomerate and a developing nation, in order to support a changing perspective of leadership, and a vision of a European model which may guide both continents in the future.

We speak about the fact that the Netherlands - based on a broad political consensus - are on the way to implement the toughest climate law in the world.

WOW, this is great, isn't it? However, is this really needed?

This is the main question in a controversial global (not only European!) discussion and an ambivalent public opinion process where everybody, and here I mean really everybody, seems to have an expert position with strong beliefs fed by certain dubious sources of information. I have rarely heard so much bullshit, even from good friends, as I have in the field of changing climate and its impact on humans, our living conditions, and life itself.

Lets make clear at this point that there is no doubt about all scientific findings which indicate that we are growing too fast, and that we are consuming the resources of the planet too fast, and that we are polluting and destroying our own basis of existence with a speed and degree of complexity which makes it difficult to reverse.

The Paris Agreement of 2015 was a miracle in a mostly confused and disoriented world; a moment of light for mankind, when under the guidance of the United Nations, a milestone agreement regulating global greenhouse gas emissions with impact on climate change was negotiated, ratified, and adopted by consensus of 196 state parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Le Bourget, near Paris, France.

Even though the US declared its intention to withdraw from the Agreement in June 2017, the fact that such an agreement was declared and committed to by so many countries proves that there is something ongoing; something huge and beyond our imagination.

We are losing control of the planet; a disturbing and frightening reality which does not affect everyone in the same way at the same time. Those who created this miserable situation are mostly the industrial nations of the West that built their wealth on the foundation of a global disaster which is coming closer. "Wealthier people produce more carbon pollution - even the green ones" was a great article, straight to the point, by David Roberts in December 2017. So its not about left or right, its about the rich and the poor, and in a wider sense about fairness of distribution. The consequences of climate change are unfairly impacting the poorest people in the world the most. Even in Asia, and here in Indonesia in specific, a new middle-to-high income population is forming which - unaware of the unlucky spiral of economy and consumption - transfers and copies the same patterns of inequality into the nation. While those who become wealthy are flexible and can move and enter a better life, those who live below or close to poverty have to bear the consequences.

"We are doomed" is the logical conclusion of scientists and thinkers like Mayer Hillman or David Wallace-Wells. “All is not that bad” will be the answers of those who benefit from sucking the resources and living a safe life. Perhaps there will be a better wine in Belgium [besides a soccer World Cup semifinalist title!).

People in my home in central Europe really don't care that much about global warming. Yes, there are more heavy thunderstorms visible, but we can ensure our safety, and our real problem, indeed, are refugees who want to enter our country. That this is increasingly a consequence of climate change is something people are unaware of or not really interested in. National politics serve them, but also catalyze the problems as they promote only their industries, and by doing so they ignore climate change as a crucial political issue. Climate change induced migration is - sorry to say - a more or less welcome argument for the fear to be voted in again.

No wonder that implementation of national climate actions plans to mitigate global warming lag behind and will end up in delays and excuses soon. Even a rise in global temperatures of 2C will be ‘substantially’ more harmful than 1.5C as per a draft UN report. National action plans will be by far too slow.

Its' a matter of psychology that people and politicians don't care enough at the moment. As Kate Stein points out in a recent interview with researcher Galen Treuer from the University of Connecticut, "It's human nature not to think about rising seas".

As long as we don't have a personal threat, people have other issues that are very important: affordable housing or transportation, for example. Those are the things that seem to motivate people more than the consequences of an impact which may come from climate change.

In such a situation of excuses and delays in the implementation of measures, it is important to look at the ambitious model of Netherlands. Maybe people in the Netherlands are feeling the increasing sea levels more than others, or whatever,  but they are guiding the show, and even though the country is not participating in the recent soccer World Cup, they have behaved like champions and we can all learn from them. The Oranjes guide necessary developments into a better future. Whether their positioning and action will be enough, I don't know.

Just a side remark: 18 years ago I learned about the importance of a role model when I argued (for first time in history) for an Austrian company, winning them a European enterprise for sustainable technology. A great success, but what I learned in between is, that this may be not enough! We need to understand the relevance of local frameworks in Europe when we look to Asia. While discussing the relevance of emissions of 20 or 50 cars with running motors, or from the chimney of a factory in clean Europe, we get stuck in daily traffic jams of big cities like Jakarta with millions of cars standing around and emitting CO2 in useless non operation mode every day. As we have the same heaven, we share the consequences of our effort.

The model of the Netherlands inspires us and gives hope, but eventually its the leadership (in Europe and Asia) which will make the difference. Do we recognize the urgency for our society to act and maintain the foundations of life for future generations?

Even national developments are somewhat disillusioning at the moment. I strongly believe in the model offered by the Netherlands. It is guiding leaders in Europe and in Asia to spearhead a more sustainable model of development, to take action for our future. True leaders foresee problems, they address issues early on, and they work out plans to counteract them. At this stage, wise countries like Indonesia also have to enforce positive leadership and international cooperation. The West-East relationship between the Netherlands, the European Union, and Indonesia may become a recognized example of the way forward.

Wolfram Kalt, Dr is long-serving CEO of one of the largest viscose facilities of the southern hemisphere, visionary green-economy practitioner and entrepreneurial guru. He is an independent strategy advisor for business and institutions with 20+ year of excellence in industrial enterprise build up and transformation of emission intensive industry towards sustainability leadership in Europe and Asia. 

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