A reality check for renewable energy

The clean-and-safe energy revolution is not imminent. In fact, according to the information compiled by Looking Ahead: The 50 Global Trends That Matter,1an annual compendium of data and graphics on subjects ranging from economics to demography to energy, the majority of the planet’s electricity needs will still be fueled by coal and natural gas in 2040—despite strong growth in nonhydro renewables such as wind, solar, and geothermal. The report also expects the shale phenomenon to abate, with Saudi Arabia reasserting itself as the world’s leading oil producer in 2030.

Looking Ahead, which is produced by an independent think tank supported by Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Court, does not take a view on these trends; instead, it simply lays out the best available information from a wide variety of sources, including governments, consultancies, think tanks, corporations, and multilateral institutions. The overriding aim of the publication is to highlight issues that matter in compelling visualizations that make it easier for readers to grasp a large amount of interlinked data—and thus better understand both the nature of the problems the world faces and how to address them.

China’s expanding influence in Laos

The recently signed Joint General Scheme of Mohan–Boten Economic Cooperation Zone is the first cross-border economic cooperation zone that China has established in Laos and, for that matter, in the whole of Southeast Asia. The deal hints at the Asian giant’s goal to expand its economic ties with its southern neighbours.

What a New Vietnam-Russia Deal Says About the Mekong’s Future

It is potentially an unusual business transaction. While the prospect of a Vietnamese company taking over a Russian group in of itself is unusual, the buyout of a strategic stake in a major fish distributor is also a reflection of changing attitudes to the management of the Mekong River.

Food security is the priority issue dominating the political agenda surrounding the lower Mekong subregion for the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments. It’s a stark contrast to thinking in Laos, which sees the Mekong primarily through the lens of hydropower.

China drives water cooperation with Mekong countries

China is more closely involved in cross-border cooperation on hydropower and water management after the six countries that share the Mekong River signed a landmark agreement late last year.

While more needs to be done between these countries to resolve disputes and encourage transparency over dam building and shared water management, the agreement signals a greater willingness to discuss areas of discord that have soured relations in the region in the past.

During their meeting in in China’s southern province of Yunnan in November 2015, the foreign ministers of China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam launched the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Mechanism (LMCM), an initiative pitched at the November 2014 Summit Meeting between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Naypyidaw, Myanmar.

Risks loom for Myanmar’s Kyaukphyu Economic Zone

The end of 2015 saw a series of major announcements and decisions regarding Myanmar’s latest special economic zone (SEZ) in Kyaukphyu township of Rakhine State. In late December, Myanmar’s government approved the demarcation of land for the SEZ and awarded tenders to develop the SEZ to a CITIC Group-led consortium.

With AIIB, Nation Diversifies Funding Options

Though it’s extremely early days, experts this week welcomed Cambodia’s membership to the nascent China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), saying it would provide much-needed diversity of funding for the nation’s infrastructure and connectivity needs.

Launched in Beijing last weekend, the multilateral development bank aims to support infrastructure growth in the Asia-Pacific region through the provision of loans, and supports China’s ambitious “One Belt, One Road” initiative to boost trade and connectivity across the Eurasian landmass.

Ecological trade-offs

Hydroelectric dams grace bank notes in developing countries, from Mozambique to Laos, Kyrgyzstan to Sri Lanka, a place of honor reflecting their reputation as harbingers of prosperity. That esteem, now enhanced by hydropower’s presumed low-carbon profile, continues to overrule concerns about environmental consequences and displaced people, as evidenced by a surge in dam-building in the developing world.

A recent paper in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests a seemingly obvious, yet novel approach: Bring in aquatic scientists at the beginning so that engineers can consider ecological principles first, not last. The paper came out of meetings organised by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2013. Engineers and aquatic scientists discussed their core requirements for a hypothetical case study of the Iowa River in the United States.