Asia needs regional multilateral cooperation to achieve a just energy transition
Since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) embarked its sixth assessment report cycle, three working group reports have been published. These reports reaffirm the indisputable fact that climate change is caused by human activities, and focus on the impact of climate change, adaptation and vulnerability. On April 4, the third working group report (WG3) highlighted that the world must peak its carbon emissions now. Otherwise, the global average temperature will continue to rise towards the end of this century by 3.2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrialization, which will become a catastrophe. We must accelerate climate actions to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as required by the Paris Agreement.
Asia’s energy transition needs to speed up
The webinar, "Accelerating the Just Energy Transition in Asia: Voices from Civil Society and Business", which was held on April 7th by CarbonCare InnoLab, was echoing the IPCC’s findings in time. A total of 13 experts from Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, India, Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong were invited to address the opportunities and challenges towards achieving, and put forward analysis and suggestions on how to speed up a just energy transition.
Even if we affirmed the climate pledges in their respective countries/regions, there are still a long way to go with the IPCC recommendations. The decision-making process is also top-down, with less attention paid to the specifics of how to formulate and implement decarbonisation pathways.
There are also cautions about the intervention of new technology solutions, including the new generation nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage. Even though new energy technologies such as green hydrogen have considerable potential, and the IPCC report have listed the above technologies as mitigation options, their potential very much depends on the maturity of large-scale use of technologies, which usually have longer return on investment, higher costs and potential security risks.
Possibilities and Limitations of technology solutions
In addition, even though the cost of renewable power generation has dropped significantly, the comparatively high upfront cost and the grid instability arising from variability of renewable energy, which are solvable, requires serious attention by the grid operators and regulators. There is an example from Jeju Island of South Korea, indicating that due to curtailment by grid operators, the electricity generated by renewable energy cannot be used even if it performs as good as gas-fired power plants. In addition, due to the supply chain issues as a result of coronavirus pandemic and geopolitical tensions, the originally reduced renewable energy generation costs may become unstable. Therefore, regulators should play a central role in overcoming technical barriers while weighing in costs, benefits and risks.
Meanwhile, Asia will face difficulties in speeding up the decommissioning of coal-fired power plants in the future. Operators from two local coal-fired power plants in South Korea are hindering the early retirement because the government is afraid of potential demands for costly compensation, without the initiatives to assess the compensation size. The government, as the power regulator, has not been actively promoting the decommissioning. To negotiate a set of implementation guidelines and early retirement mechanisms will pose a challenge in the region.
Issues of Just Energy Transition: Openness, Transparency and Equality
Looking ahead, the energy transition in Asia will still encounter opportunities and challenges. The current level of renewable energy technology, according to an analysis from Japan, can already meet the country's decarbonisation targets, which will generate greater economic benefits and create more employment opportunities than the continued development of fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Meanwhile, studies from Hong Kong and ASEAN, indicated that the principles of openness, transparency and equality should be mainstreamed in the process of energy transition.
Experiences from community-based renewable energy projects in Japan and Taiwan, setting good examples across Asia. These examples are encouraging, but small-scaled and fragmented. The factors of success are members' sense of participation, trust in other members of the community and a sense of belonging to the project, but still need to overcome the legal and power system barriers. This is what needs to be learned in order to grow at scale.
Finally, the investors should incorporate just transition into investment principles, including care for labour and community participation. Such initiative is still in its infancy, but it is hoped that in the foreseeable future more investors in the region will consider the just transition as a core value in their energy investment decisions.
This webinar covered a wide range of topics across Asia. The three-hour discussion was obviously unfinished, but was a good attempt, taking the first step towards multilateral cooperation on regional energy transition in the future. We look forward to further in-depth discussions with experts on individual topics in the future.
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Speaker List of the Webinar - "Accelerating the Just Energy Transition in Asia: Voices from Civil Society and Business": (in no particular order)
- Zhao Ang, co-director and co-founder, Rock Environmental and Energy Institute (Mainland China)
- Mika Ohbayashi, Director, Renewable Energy Institute (Japan)
- Professor Jusen Asuka, Centre for Northeast Asian Studies, Tohoku University (Japan)
- Dr. Shota Furuya, Researcher, Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (Japan)
- Gahee Han, Researcher, Solutions for Our Climate (South Korea)
- Seukyoung Lee, Researcher, Solutions for Our Climate (South Korea)
- Hwang Shute, Chairperson, Green Advocates Energy Cooperative (Taiwan)
- Dr. Chao Chia Wei, Chairman, Taiwan Environmental Planning Association
- Anjali Viswamohanan, Senior Policy Manager, Asian Investors Group for Climate Change
- Dr. Daphne Mah, Director, Asian Energy Research Centre, Hong Kong Baptist University
- Dr. Laurence L. Delina, Division of Environment and Sustainability, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
- Chong Chan Yau, co-founder and CEO, CarbonCare InnoLab
- Kevin Li, researcher, CarbonCare InnoLab
About the author
Kevin Li is a Researcher at CarbonCare InnoLab, a Hong Kong-based environmental NGO. He leads research that tracks the annual performance of Asian cities against the Paris Agreement goals.