ASEAN BY 2017
Benjamin Quinones (Philippines), Darwin Silalahi (Indonesia), Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam (Malaysia) and Datuk Lim Sue Beng (Malaysia) look ahead to the energy future and sustainability of Asean.
Q: How do you see Asean countries moving toward sustainability?
Quinones: Sustainability gains in Asean countries in recent years (particularly in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Singapore) are seriously being undermined today in the aftermath of the recent calamity in Sendai, Japan. Devastation wrought by the mega earthquake and supersonic tsunami is made worse by the risk of radiation poisoning resulting from the nuclear reactor meltdown.
Silalahi: Over half of the world’s population today lives in cities.
By 2050, this could rise to three-quarters. According to the United Nations Habitat group this would require the development of a new city of 1 million people every week for the next 30 years. Many of these cities will be built here in Asia. How these cities are planned and built could make a critical difference, not least since almost 80 percent of CO2 emissions are produced in cities. Smaller, more compact cities tend to use energy more efficiently than sprawling ones. Improvement and better use of public transport can make a big difference to energy demand. For example, because of the way their cities are designed, the average American motorist drives twice the distance and uses three times as much energy as his European counterpart.
Navaratnam: Asean has been moving toward sustainability. The question is how fast and I would say not fast enough . After all, we are blessed with Asean goodwill and are free from bickering and instability. Why are we not going faster? We have to examine why- review our policies, consult more with our businessmen and go forward with greater political will, especially among the original six countries.
Q: What are the sustainability challenges in the Asean region?Quinones: The immediate threat to Asean sustainability today comes from radioactive particles that travel through the atmosphere. International media has reported that radioactive particles have settled on grass and in water that was consumed by some cows. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration have found radiation levels in milk samples in the U.S. to be “miniscule” compared to the exposure that people face in their daily lives, the FDA has nonetheless banned all imports of fruits, vegetables and dairy products from areas of Japan near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Japanese people are also taking extra precautions by avoiding consumption of fruits, vegetables and dairy products from neighboring areas of the nuclear plant. The Asean governments, corporate sector and civil society should take positive steps of informing people and helping them overcome their ignorance and fear. The more informed the people about the environmental and health impact of the nuclear reactor meltdown, the greater will be the ability of Asean countries to respond effectively.
Silalahi: We are seeing a step change in energy use. Developing nations, including population giants China and India, are entering their most energy-intensive phase of economic growth as they industrialise, urbanize, build infrastructure, and increase their use of transportation. Demand pressures will stimulate alternative supply and more efficiency in energy use-but these alone may not be enough to offset growing demand tensions completely. Underlying global demand for energy by 2050 could triple from its 2000 level if emerging economies follow historical patterns of development. Navaratnam: Sustainability challenges include fear of competition, lack of confidence to cope with meritocracy and a general protective attitude. But to be fair, other regions took longer and even failed to move at all.
Q: How great a role do you expect solar power to play in the region?
Quinones: Solar power will certainly increase in importance as a source of energy in the region as people become more disappointed and averse to nuclear power. Although it might be a little bit more costly at this stage to shift to solar power, people’s ‘safety-first’ attitude will increasingly come into play in its favor. As a case in point, Takashi Sawaguchi, Chairperson of the Policy Research Institute of the Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Cooperative Movement of Japan, noted in his recent email to this author that the lifestyle and the nuclear-powered production method of developed countries like Japan are no longer sustainable, as evidenced by the Sendai disaster. He called for a global discussion and fundamental review of an alternative way of life and production that uses alternative energy such as solar power.
Silalahi: Smart urban development, sustained policy encouragement and commercial and technological innovation can all result in some demand moderation. But so can price-shocks, knee-jerk policies and frustrated aspirations. Timescales are a key factor. Buildings, infrastructure and power stations last several decades.
The stock of vehicles can last 20 years. New energy technologies must be demonstrated at commercial scale and require 30 years of sustained double-digit growth to build industrial capacity and grow sufficiently to feature at even 1-2 percent of the energy system. The policies in place in the next five years shape investment for the next 10 years, which largely shape the global energy picture out to 2050.
Findings show that large government subsidies to keep energy prices low can shape consumer behaviour. They encourage consumers to be less energy efficient. In all, governments worldwide spent over US$300 billion on fuel subsidies in 2009, according to the IEA.
Removing these subsidies completely by 2020 would save enough energy to meet the needs of Japan and Korea, with enough left over to provide for New Zealand as well. By all accounts, lower subsidies lead to greater efficiency and savings that ultimately benefit the consumer.
Navaratnam: Solar power can play a big role. We are blessed with sunshine all through the year, unlike the temperate countries. But our research levels are low. Maybe there should be more collaborative efforts to mutually tap our energy-instead of nuclear energy.
(Editor’s note: By the end of 2011, Thailand, alone, will be generating 150 megawatts of solar power and this will increase in 2012.) ................
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