Tari Lestari – A Clean Energy Transition Is the Only Way to Create a Better Future for Asia

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Nov 03, 2017
by Tari Lestari
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Tari Lestari – A Clean Energy Transition Is the Only Way to Create a Better Future for Asia

Project manager at the South Pole group says clean energy will create enormous investment opportunities, sustainable growth, economic benefits and prosperity for Asia Lestari says a clean energy transition will create enormous investment opportunities, sustainable growth, economic benefits, and prosperity

Lestari will be a participant at the upcoming session in the series The Asia We Want: Building Community Through Regional Cooperation. All participants were invited to share their own vision for “the Asia we want.”

One of the biggest battles to save the climate from collapse needs to be fought in Southeast Asia. The region has been referred to as the center of gravity of the new global energy system by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Southeast Asia is currently facing a major challenge in finding a balance between energy security, environmental sustainability (limiting its greenhouse gas emissions) and economic competitiveness. A clean energy transition is the only way to create a better future for the region. It will create enormous investment opportunities, sustainable growth, economic benefits, and prosperity.

Southeast Asia has led the world in carbon emission growth per capita by a 263 percent increase in CO2 emissions from 1990 to 2013 (World Bank, 2017). The region is also expected to experience a strong economic growth with an average of GDP growth rate of over six percent throughout this decade which will lead to a substantial increase in energy demand from its growing population (ASEAN Energy Center). In meeting this need, many countries in the region are pursuing new coal-fired power plants – a highly-polluted fuel – due to its low cost. A Harvard report predicted that if all projected plants become operational, Asian coal emissions could triple by 2030. Meanwhile, Southeast Asia itself is highly vulnerable to climate risks furthered by those growth expectations, which would see almost 90 percent of its population suffer substantial loss and damage from climate change impacts.

The World Bank President said that Asia’s power plant plans are a disaster for the climate. Unfortunately, a convergence of forces that have created an almost ideal ecosystem for coal investment present in Southeast Asia today. An unholy alliance of cheap financing to fund and incentivize the export of Chinese, Japanese and South Korean coal technology, coupled with the supply of abundant and cheap coal from Indonesia and the willingness of energy policymakers in Southeast Asian countries to prioritize coal for short-term gains, plus a missing functioning system to support clean technology innovation and startup companies, puts big hurdles into the path to the low carbon transition. The region is locked into high-carbon growth despite abundant and commercially attractive low-carbon resource potential and high climate vulnerability levels.

On the other hand, despite promoting renewable energy and green growth domestically, China, Japan, and South Korea continue to fund coal in Southeast Asia and lead the list of G20 countries financing global fossil fuel expansion. The three countries made up almost 80 percent of international coal finance in 2007 to 2015 which mainly flew to Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, and India (NDRC, 2016).

Additionally, China with its Belt and Road Initiative (a massive infrastructure plan to foster trade and connectivity throughout Asia and Europe) has raised concerns that other countries participating in this initiative could suffer similar air quality and environmental issues faced by China.

A concerted, multi-dimensional effort is ultimately required to face this battle. Southeast Asian countries need to focus on aligning its energy systems with its climate goals through adopting cheaper renewable energy solutions, improving energy efficiency, promoting the cleaner use of fossil fuels, and finding safe ways to introduce nuclear energy into the energy mix. While the global trend of an exponential drop in levelized cost of production of clean energy technologies has not yet converted into business development and investments in Southeast Asia today, quickly decreasing clean energy costs will become competitive in the region on a wide scale, making existing and new coal plants obsolete within the next three to five years.

Sri (Tari) Lestari is a project manager/consultant at South Pole Group (SPG), a global provider of climate change and sustainability solutions.


Session 591 - The Asia We Want: Building Community Through Regional Cooperation I - A Clean and Green Asia- is the first session of a new multi-year series held in partnership with the Japan Foundation. For more information on the Session, please click here. To keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the session on social media, follow #SGSasia.

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