Southeast Asia at Energy-Climate Crossroad

By Vijay Jayaraj

Southeast Asia is at the crossroads of choosing between a climate agenda hostile to fossil fuels and the energy security its population desperately needs.

Central to the question is the use of coal. The fuel is especially critical in the production of electricity for the 700 million people of the 10 countries making up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN): Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Electricity demand in Southeast Asia grew by 22 percent between 2015 and 2021, greater than the global average. The International Energy Agency predicts that “energy demand in the region is set to grow by around 3 percent a year to 2030, with three-quarters of the increase being met by fossil fuels…The net oil import bill, which stood at $50 billion in 2020, is set to multiply in size rapidly.”

Contributing to the energy bill is the global phenomenon of inflation. In June, the highest rates of inflation in ASEAN were in Thailand (7.7 percent), Vietnam (3.4 percent), Philippines (6.1 percent) and Indonesia (4.3 percent), mainly due to rising energy and food prices.

Adding to the pressures of higher demand for electricity and more expensive fuel is  growing pressure from international political bodies to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Propositions such as the Paris agreement and the net zero agenda have captured the imaginations of the political elite with ASEAN countries within the grasp of the climate-crazy octopus.

Disregarding fossil fuels’ contribution to its economic growth in the last decade, Vietnam has espoused the net zero pledge. In its new National Power Development Plan, the country indicated its desire to reduce “coal-fired plants to less than 10 percent of the total capacity by 2045,” in addition to halting construction of new coal plants. With nearly 70 percent of all electricity coming from fossil fuels, Vietnam has absurdly declared war on coal.

Vietnam is ranked at a dismal 134th in global ranking for per capita energy consumption. Its “peak demand during 2022 – 2025 will rise by 2,830 megawatts (MW) annually on average while power generation will increase by only 1,565 MW per annum.” The decision to reduce coal consumption at this juncture is suicidal, running counter to the country’s objective of economic growth.

However, not all ASEAN countries have been as irresponsible as Vietnam. Because of the post-pandemic increase in energy demand, many ASEAN members are reversing decisions to reduce fossil fuel consumption.

Among them is Indonesia, one of the biggest producers of coal in Asia and a major exporter to other countries. Indonesia is reporting a 4 percent increase in coal mining during the 2nd quarter of 2022 following a ban on Russian coal. A further increase is expected to be prompted by a broader ban to be instituted by the EU in August. Indonesia’s largest energy infrastructure company has now acquired a Thai state-owned energy firm, expanding its coal mining business to Thailand and ensuring continuous coal production there.

Some in ASEAN are installing innovative fuel-saving artificial intelligence systems in their coal plants to make them more efficient, thus indicating that their reliance on coal power is here to stay.

Perhaps, the ASEAN countries will model neighboring India and China, which continue to increase fossil fuel consumption to meet energy demand. China, for example, approved a coal mine project worth $458 million in the Inner Mongolia region as recently as July.

The worst mistake would be to decommission ASEAN coal-fired power plants. Even the economic powerhouses of Europe like Austria, Germany and the UK have reopened coal plants to ensure energy security.

If common sense prevails, most ASEAN countries will adopt clean-coal technology, which provides remarkably low pollutant emissions and less dust. In fact, its safety and efficiency are so recognized that Japan is exporting its technology to other countries. India, which is the second largest consumer of coal, has opened a National Centre for Clean Coal Research and Development.

A 2020 report by the CO2 Coalition, found that clean-coal technology “virtually eliminates health hazards from sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter,” thus reducing the outdoor pollution problem that is so common in low-income and mid-income economies like those in ASEAN.

Still in the grip of energy poverty, ASEAN countries that deprive themselves of affordable fossil fuels risk becoming the next Sri Lanka.

Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, VA., and holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia, UK. He resides in Bengaluru, India.

This commentary was first published at Real Clear Energy, July 10,2022

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Bill Toland
August 14, 2022 2:41 am

I think what has happened to Sri Lanka will be a huge reality check for developing countries who wish to follow ludicrous advice from the green elite in the developed world.

Reply to  Bill Toland
August 14, 2022 3:51 am

I doubt it, Bill

Reply to  Bill Toland
August 14, 2022 4:16 am

Politicians seem to be a breed that is incapable of learning from the mistakes of others. After all, Communism has never yet been done correctly…

Reply to  Spetzer86
August 14, 2022 6:39 am

But this time, it will be different

Bryan A
Reply to  Spetzer86
August 14, 2022 7:46 am

Politicians are a breed incapable of learning from their own mistakes let alone those of others. They tend to “Double Down” on STUPID

Reply to  Bill Toland
August 14, 2022 5:34 am

Coal leasing in the U.S. is again restricted by an Obama rule which had been overturned.

Reply to  Bill Toland
August 14, 2022 9:58 am

Sri Lanka’s problem is a lack of foreign exchange due to collapse of its economy.

Reply to  griff
August 14, 2022 10:35 am

Sri Lanka’s problem was their government’s expectation that kowtowing to the WEF / UN “vision” of organic farming would ingratiate them with the “visionary” nations leaders such as Boris, Joe, Justine, Jacinda, et al, who would shower Sri Lanka with aid $$$$ if they kept the faith.

But when the time came to pitch in, all they got from the “visionaries” was –
“sorry, we’ve got a conference to get to”

Richard Page
Reply to  griff
August 14, 2022 1:20 pm

Sri Lanka’s problem is a collapse of it’s economy due to shortsighted, ill-advised and disastrous government bans of essential products. The lack of foreign exchange is a consequence of that problem – if you don’t understand, Griffy, abstain from commenting or ask an adult for help.

Reply to  Bill Toland
August 14, 2022 10:12 am

In rational, honest rulers, that would apply. The reality check involves following where the money flows.
Follow the money!

August 14, 2022 3:59 am

If common sense prevails”

That’s a very big ‘if’.

What really counts is what money will be on the table in Sharm el Sheikh later in the year

Dave Andrews
August 14, 2022 7:31 am

Worldwide coal fired power production doubled between 2000 and 2020 (Carbon Brief)

There are currently

700GW of coal fired plants 0-9 years old
650GW 10-19 years old
Over 200GW 20-29 years old
Over 200GW 30-39 years old
c.180GW 40-50 years old
c.120GW 50+ years old

According to the IEA coal consumption returned to almost its all time high in 2021 and coal used for power production increased 7% to 5350 Million tonnes (Mt). Coal use for power rose 16% in China and in India consumption reached a new record high of 1053Mt of which 75% was used for power production.

Indonesia was the world’s largest exporter of thermal coal increasing exports by 27Mt to 434Mt and over twice as much as Australia at 199Mt.

We know China and India are building new coal plants as fast as they can closely followed by SE Asia.

Seems to me, given the above facts, coal based power production has a lengthy life ahead of it.

(Interestingly the EU was the second largest importer of Russian coal after China)

Rud Istvan
August 14, 2022 9:06 am

There is no crossroad. India, China, and the rest have no option except to use coal. Greens thinking maybe otherwise just shows how deluded they are. And all the new China coal plants have been clean coal for years. India, not as much.
The China coal air pollution problem is industry plus coal as a residential heating fuel. Like London in the 1800’s.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
August 14, 2022 10:00 am

India of course has 56GW of solar capacity…

Reply to  griff
August 14, 2022 10:38 am

and it actually produces enough to charge how many EVs each night?

Richard Page
Reply to  griff
August 14, 2022 1:31 pm

India of course has 56GW of installed solar capacity which generates approximately 1/10th of that nameplate capacity. Before you comment, it might be better if you’d referred to the reports created by India’s Central Electricity Authority who have released real figures for Solar generation, not fantasy.

Reply to  griff
August 15, 2022 7:53 am

There is nothing inherently wrong with developing wind and solar energy where appropriate. It’s lack of reliability however renders those surces unsuitable for being the dominate factor in the electric grid. Personally, I think the economics stink but that is another question.

Richard Page
Reply to  Oldanalyst
August 15, 2022 9:37 am

Costing far more to produce far less should be a clear warning that this is crap, not held up as a gold standard of future development.

Reply to  Richard Page
August 16, 2022 3:41 pm

Costing far more to produce far less”. Griff, THIS is all you, or anyone thinking? as you do… needs to know. No further details/arguments/discussions are necessary.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
August 14, 2022 10:15 am

Do Chinese power plants have the same scrubbers on them as modern U.S. plants?

Saying the Greens are delusional is not news. I think that a large proportion of them would prefer a no human future.

Richard Page
Reply to  Brad-DXT
August 15, 2022 9:39 am

They have some form of scrubbers and filters, not sure if they are as effective as those in US and western plants though.

August 14, 2022 12:08 pm

Vietnam wants to take MFG market share from China and raising green flags helps with those signaling efforts for the export customers.

August 14, 2022 10:06 pm

These developing nations need to tell the UN and all others to take a hike. Do what you need to in order to move your people forward and improve their lot in the cleanest most responsible way you can afford.

Bob Close
Reply to  Bob
August 15, 2022 4:37 am

All Developed and emerging ‘developing’ nations like the ASEAN nations need to tell the UN where to go on climate and energy policy. The UN agencies have already destabilized the global energy environment by its stupid net zero policies and restrictions on fossil fuels to energy needy nations because of the lies they have told about climate change and the supposed Carbon Dioxide pollution related to modern industrialization. They should just get out of the way and let responsible nations have their development and rising prosperity to suits their societies. This interfering top-down political lecturing has to stop.

Real science has shown the trace gas CO2 has very little to with modern global warming, as the main greenhouse gas water vapour acts through clouds and the hydrological cycle to moderate any atmospheric warming effect, so forget about any runaway warming now and in the future. Humans are changing the environment, massively in cities with the UHIE warming, but are not responsible for global climate change, minimal though that is, and not at all scary.
The UN works on the principle of “the glass is 2/3rds empty” so they want to reduce all energy generation before we run out of fossil fuels etc. This is leftist politics at its worst.

All scientists know that C, O and H2O are the basis of all life on this planet, CO2 is plant food, and when we animals burn energy in our bodies we exhale CO2, these are facts, not opinions like you get from the IPCC related to CAGW, and the resultant stupidity of ruining economies for an oxymoron- CO2 pollution. Its time to grow folks!

Reply to  Bob
August 16, 2022 3:44 pm

Somehow, those nations have lost the true meaning of “developing”, if they are acting on suggestions from the U.N.

Andy Pattullo
August 15, 2022 3:52 pm

Nice to see an article based on reality and on the economic and energy requirements of running healthy societies.

August 15, 2022 4:49 pm

What I find striking is that orgs such as the UN and the World Bank bleat endlessly about “poverty”, but now pursue “green” policies that will price the world’s poor OUT of the electricity market and HURT these people. Electricity for poor people is the key to so much in improving living standards: 1. reliable water supply, 2. reliable food supply, 3. Sanitation.

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