Scenarios for 2030 - Day Four - Energy Security and Resource Scarcity

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Nov 29, 2013
by Louise Hallman
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Scenarios for 2030 - Day Four - Energy Security and Resource Scarcity

Learning by example, implementing by region Surin Pitsuwan, former Secretary General warns that Asia's resources will not go on forever

Fast economic development, resource use and urbanization rates are outstripping the earth's carrying capacity and putting critical strain on the resilience of ecosystems and our natural capital.

Environmental tipping points are approaching fast and make societies ever more vulnerable, most tragically shown in the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami as well as the “Triple Disaster” that hit Japan on March 11, 2011, and most recently Typhoon Haiyan that has devastated parts of the Philippines.

Options and life chances in 2030 will therefore be directly shaped by today’s decisions on energy, water and food security in the context of climate change.

The final day of the Kyoto Seminar part of the joint Nippon Foundation-Salzburg Global Seminar program ‘People, Peace and Planet in 2030: Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth’ focused on these issues of energy security and resource scarcity, and the environmental impact of rapid growth as demonstrated in Asia.

As Japanese nuclear engineers finally start the delicate process of removing the fuel rods from a storage pool at the earthquake and tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the Salzburg Global-Nippon Fellows remarked on the timeliness of Christine Woerlen’s presentation on ‘Energy Transformation – It is possible!’.

Dr. Woerlen presented Germany’s journey from nuclear-powered to nuclear-free and increasingly renewable power-reliable as a case study in energy transformation, explaining how the country was not only phasing out nuclear power (which had long been a contentious issue in Europe’s largest economy, and was finally agreed to be phased out after the Fukushima disaster), but also by committing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 and phasing in renewable energy and greater energy efficiencies.

Before the nuclear phase out was agreed in 2011, nuclear power accounted for 10% of Germany’s energy consumption, with renewables accounting for 15%. By 2030, not only will nuclear be completely phased out, but renewables are projected to account for 39%, with that figure rising to 67% by 2050. 

This plan will enable Germany to be less reliant on energy imports, such as gas from Russia, reduce the possible nuclear risk and the environmental impact caused by pollution, mining and waste, as well as making energy more affordable to the consumer in the long-term.

It also provides “green growth” opportunities for investment and innovation, as well as creating jobs (which will hopefully off-set those lost by closing the nuclear power plants), as well as encouraging a “democratization” of the energy sectors as members of the public install power generating devices such as solar panels to sell electricity back into the national grid, ultimately reducing the influence of the powerful national utility companies.

Germany’s progress—and success—in the area of renewable energy shows what one country can do when it has the political will, capacity and vision necessary to tackle such an issue.

But many of these issues surrounding energy, resources and the environment need a more broad and concerted effort than is possible to deliver by one country alone. This is where regional multilateral cooperations are needed.

Speaking on the success of ASEAN in helping pull its 10 member states (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) out of poverty and propel them forward economically, former Secretary General of the body, Surin Pitsuwan warned that Asia's resources will not go on forever.

Despite its huge growth in the past four decades, the divide between the haves and the have-nots in the region is still vast. To be able to continue in their growth – and create more equitable growth for all their citizens – ASEAN nations need markets to export to and resources to sustain it.

But as Dr. Pitsuwan remarked: “The world is finite.”

Dr. Pitsuwan called for countries to take a regional approach to their environmental challenges, as by their very nature, they have an impact far beyond the borders of one country.

ASEAN has stepped in to deal with these regional environmental problems, creating agreements such as the ASEAN “Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution,” an environmental agreement established in 2002 and finally ratified by all ten countries by 2010 with the aim of reducing haze pollution caused by industry pollution and deforestation fires in Southeast Asia.

As this pollution affects more than just the countries that produce it (e.g. forest fires in Indonesia caused haze in neighboring Singapore), a regional multilateral approach was not only the most effective approach, but it also had greater legitimacy, having been formulated by the region, for the region, rather than imposed by other non-ASEAN countries.

In order to tackle the current and future environmental problems caused by rapid economic growth and resource use, a greater sense of “global citizenship” was needed.

“We need to recognize that we belong on this little planet together,” he stated.

This sense of togetherness and global citizenship not only needs to be expressed in the actions of governments.

A green and innovative future needs not only government support action, but also a socially responsible and innovative private sector, willing to invest in more efficient processes and take responsibility for its own environmental impact, and wider community awareness and willingness to change.

Civil society, the media and education institutions at all levels all have important roles to play to generating public engagement in these issues.

All parties involved in working towards this greener, more equitable future need to recognized the speed and scale needed to tackle huge issues of energy production, resource scarcity and climate change.

“We will be the authors of our own extinction” if we do not act, warned Dr. Pitsuwan.