Can the European Union’s climate change plan work in Southeast Asia?


Written by David Hutt

The EU has earmarked thousands and thousands of euros for supporting climate pleasant growth in Southeast Asia. But the EU’s climate diplomacy in the area is up in opposition to financial development fueled by soiled vitality.

After the European Union turned a “strategic partner” of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc in December 2020, each blocs pledged to make climate change coverage a key space of cooperation.

The EU, already the largest supplier of growth help to the ASEAN area, has dedicated thousands and thousands of euros to numerous environmental applications.

This consists of €5 million ($5.86 million) to the ASEAN Smart Green Cities initiative and one other €5 million in direction of a brand new technique of stopping deforestation, referred to as the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade in ASEAN.

Along with multilateral help, the EU additionally works with particular person ASEAN member states on eco-friendly insurance policies like Thailand’s Bio-Circular-Green Economic Model and Singapore’s Green Plan 2030.

For years, the EU has been engaged on climate motion in Southeast Asia by organizing dialogues and technical help tasks. Igor Driesmans, the EU’s ASEAN ambassador just lately mentioned the two blocs would quickly begin a “dedicated dialogue” on clear vitality transition.

However, Brussels faces an uphill wrestle to show round the area’s environmental coverage.

“The EU has been somewhat proactive in engaging with Southeast Asia on tackling climate change, but overall Southeast Asia is going in the wrong direction in many areas on climate change,” Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, informed DW.

Five ASEAN states have been amongst the fifteen international locations most affected by climate change between 1999–2018, in line with the Climate Risk Index 2020.

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Southeast Asia’s coal-powered economies

As a fast-developing area, the place financial development, urbanization and home consumption charges are anticipated to spike in the coming many years, Southeast Asia’s vitality demand is projected to develop 60% by 2040.

This will contribute to a two-thirds rise in CO2 emissions to virtually 2.4 gigatons, in line with the Southeast Asia Energy Outlook 2019.

Of the quite a few environmental issues dealing with the area, maybe the most consequential is the persevering with uptake of coal for electrical energy technology, mentioned Nithi Nesadurai, the regional coordinator of Climate Action Network Southeast Asia.

“This is contributing to rising emissions and does not augur well for the region, even as the share of renewable energy in the energy mix increases at marginal levels,” he informed DW.

Southeast Asia is considered one of the few areas of the world the place coal utilization has elevated in the previous decade. In 2019, the area consumed round 332 million tons of coal, almost double the consumption from a decade earlier, in line with the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Of that, Indonesia accounted for 42% and Vietnam almost a 3rd. In 2019, the area’s imports of thermal coal rose by 19% in contrast with the earlier 12 months, in line with an IEA report.

Energy generated from coal doubled in the Philippines between 2011 and 2018, when it accounted for 53% of vitality consumption, in line with the nation’s Department of Energy.

Coal is anticipated to account for greater than 50% of Vietnam’s vitality provide by 2030, the World Coal Association, an trade physique, predicts.

Even Laos, which has constructed lots of of hydropower dams over the previous decade, noticed coal-fired vitality manufacturing rise from virtually nothing to 10,000 GWh in 2017.

In February, Laos’ deputy minister of vitality and mines, Daovong Phoneke, introduced that two new coal-fired vitality crops, with investments value as much as $4 billion, will open by the finish of the 12 months, largely to export vitality to neighboring international locations.

According to a examine printed in November in the journal of Energy and Climate Change, coal-fired vitality will overtake pure gasoline as the predominant energy supply in the ASEAN area by 2030. And by 2040 it might account for nearly 50% of the area’s projected CO2 emissions.

Is the EU ignoring coal in Southeast Asia?

However, coal-fired energy manufacturing is never, if ever, talked about by the EU in its climate coverage in Southeast Asia.

After the second EU-ASEAN High-Level Dialogue on Environment and Climate Change in November, a post-dialogue assertion by the two blocs didn’t reference coal-fired vitality. Neither is coal talked about in element in the Blue Book 2020, a 47-page information that lays out EU-ASEAN partnership.

“The mix of a strong research base, policy advice, feasibilities for collaboration, and access to finance should help them to cope with the transition,” mentioned Driesmans, the EU ambassador, referring to the ASEAN bloc’s climate change exercise.

“As part of the forthcoming dialogue on Clean Energy between the EU and ASEAN, we hope to be able to support ASEAN in its energy transition, including all relevant aspects: renewable energy, energy efficiency, grid integration, climate finance and coal phase out.,” he added.

The EU tends to take a extra delicate strategy. The EU-Vietnam free commerce settlement, which got here into impact final 12 months, commits Vietnam to creating efforts in direction of renewable vitality manufacturing however there isn’t a express point out of limiting its coal-fired vitality consumption.

“The EU should be more proactive in trying to help Southeast Asian states wean themselves off of coal-fired plants,” mentioned Kurlantzick. “Of course, this is on the Southeast Asian states as well, and also on China, which is essentially exporting coal-fired plants,” he added.

Big cash in soiled vitality

Indeed, if the EU takes a robust forceful stance on coal consumption in the area, it might spark anger from the predominant exporters of the commodity, China, India and Australia.

Brussels’ climate change coverage in the area has already been met with resistance.

Indonesia final 12 months initiated proceedings at the World Trade Organization in opposition to the EU’s phased ban on palm-oil imports. Brussels contends the ban is to guard the surroundings, however Indonesia, the world’s largest palm oil producer, says it’s mere protectionism.

Malaysia, the world’s second-largest palm oil producer, has vowed to face with Jakarta in its battle in opposition to the EU.

In the newest State of Southeast Asian survey, printed in February by Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, some 43% of respondents mentioned they trusted the EU due to its stance on the surroundings, human rights, and climate change.

However, 15.1% mentioned they distrusted the EU because of this, believing its environmental coverage might threaten their nation’s pursuits and sovereignty.

The different drawback for the EU is that it dangers accusations of hypocrisy if it takes too forceful a stance on coal-fired vitality manufacturing in Southeast Asia.

“It must show leadership by example. It cannot pressure countries in Southeast Asia to shift away from coal when it is struggling to do the same in some countries in the EU,” mentioned Nesadurai, from Climate Action Network Southeast Asia.

Production and consumption of coal have dropped massively in the EU in latest many years. Hard coal consumption fell from 300 million tons in 1999 to 176 million tons in 2019, roughly half of the Southeast Asian coal consumption charge that 12 months, in line with EU information.

But Poland and the Czech Republic stay depending on coal-fired vitality manufacturing, though the former contributed to virtually 95% of the EU’s whole arduous coal manufacturing by 2019. And, in line with the International Energy Agency, Southeast Asia and Europe every accounted for round 11% of the world’s thermal coal imports in 2019.

“I think Southeast Asian countries would welcome [more] EU aid,” mentioned Kurlantzick. “But I don’t know that they are going to change their reliance on coal fired plants.”


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