Like other regions around the world, Southeast Asia is no exception to decarbonising its energy sector, and improving its national energy security – perhaps simply because renewable energy (RE) has become cheaper. The ASEAN Member States (AMS) individually and collectively have set ambitious targets to incorporate RE in their energy system.
The projects are backed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which said the pandemic has pushed eight million more people in GMS countries into poverty, adding that more than 340,000 migrant workers have been forced to return home.
“China will import more distinctive products from ASEAN, expand mutual investment, deepen the industrial supply chain and promote Lancang-Mekong cooperation,” referring to the evolving economic corridor with Indochina.
In Southeast Asia, air pollution is emerging as a major threat in metropolises like Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta. The average resident in these cities stands to gain two to five years of life expectancy if pollution levels were reined in to meet the WHO guideline.
Meeting online at a Belt and Road Summit, ASEAN ministers said the region has benefited from the infrastructure and digital connectivity already brought about by BRI, but new initiatives are needed to create opportunities amid pandemic-induced uncertainties.
Southeast as a whole, from Indonesia to Thailand and Vietnam, now accounts for more than half of global energy demand. All the major economies in the region continue to rely on coal and as a result, emissions will keep rising.
The inaugural meeting between the bloc and the Mekong River Commission has been hailed as a means of boosting protection of the vital waterway. Asean has not previously discussed issues relating to the river at the regional level, but its fluctuating water levels have put upstream Chinese dams in the spotlight.
For developing countries in Southeast Asia, growing global interest in their infrastructure needs has been cause for both excitement and concern. In 2021, the G7 announced its support for the US-led ‘Build Back Better World’ (B3W) initiative, while the European Union unveiled its own ‘Globally Connected Europe’ infrastructure strategy.
“From upriver in China down to the delta in Vietnam, throughout the course of the Mekong River, people are suffering from adverse impacts of hydropower dam projects. I hope the governments of Mekong countries will have courage to discuss this problem and find a substantial solution.”
As the gap in electricity supply and demand increases in the countries of BIMSTEC, trans-border cooperation can help diversify energy sources, reduce the average cost of supply, and meet peak demands.