Op-Ed: Southeast Asia at a Climate Crossroads – Will 1.5°C Be the Road Not Taken?


Op-Ed: Southeast Asia at a Climate Crossroads – Will 1.5°C Be the Road Not Taken?

Photo: Shutterstock / Misterdone Image

07 December 2023 – by Gerry Arances   Comments (0)

This year’s climate talks in Dubai is perhaps one of the most pivotal since COP21, the UNFCCC conference that gave birth to the Paris Agreement. The COP28 is a much-needed moment to consolidate national climate commitments through the first Global Stocktake. But long before COP, we already knew that we were in a dire situation: emissions are still going up, inadequate is too tame a term to describe finance and resources so far delivered to upscale mitigation and resilience-building of vulnerable peoples, and, ultimately, we are nowhere near meeting the 1.5°C Paris goal.

Southeast Asia (SEA) is a region at a crossroads. Despite being the most disaster-risk region in Asia, the realisation of its grave climate situation seems to elude SEA. At their most ambitious, nationally determined contributions of Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, and Singapore together project total emissions three to four times more than what would be allowed in a 1.5°C compatible pathway. This, however, is not surprising for a region with massive expansion plans for another fossil fuel and is, in fact, already at the cusp of being a global hub for fossil gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Today, SEA is developing 139 GW of new gas capacity– over a quarter of all gas power developed in Asia. LNG import and export capacity totalling 109.8 MTPA is also in the works. The fact that there is an abundance of Methane Pledge signatories and net-zero commitments in the region seems meaningless on this road to a fossil future, as the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) details in a new report

Since the Paris Agreement, financial institutions have poured USD 60.3 billion into the fossil gas industry in SEA, with Thailand, Japan, Malaysia, and Indonesia leading the way. Historical polluters are helping push the region down the spiral of continued fossil fuel dependence. Financiers in the United States, Europe and Japan are touting gas and LNG as a bridge fuel, emboldened by the fossil-friendly policies of their governments. A case in point is Japan’s JBIC, which supported a company – AG&P – that built an LNG terminal in the Philippines’ Amazon of the oceans, the Verde Island Passage. Today, the bank is facing opposition for the project’s legal violations and impacts on the overall integrity of biodiversity-rich VIP – including a fish sanctuary a few kilometres away from the project site. International finance institutions that aim to support the region’s development also risk our energy security, affordability and climate future with gas.

However, contradictions abound in its energy landscape, as SEA also uses renewable energy sources that amount to over two times its planned gas capacity. Countries with the biggest gas plans are also behind the biggest build-outs of renewables in the region, and interestingly, the biggest financial backers of gas are also among the biggest sources of financing for renewables. 

Southeast Asia is capable of both helping pave the way toward the 1.5°C goal, or burning it down with gas and LNG. The former should be the only way forward. And if civic movements and communities successfully pull the brakes of massive coal expansion in the region at the turn of the decade, this fight to stop gas in its tracks will not be any different. We will not let the 1.5°C goal be the road we fail to take.

Ten years ago, the Philippines and neighbouring countries suffered massive devastation from Haiyan, one of the deadliest storms in history. The super typhoon swept away the lives of at least 6,300 Filipinos and damaged over a million homes. That was in 2013; Haiyan was born in a world at 0.8°C of global warming. In its wake, it left a hard-learned lesson: that we cannot afford to live in a world beyond 1.5°C.

A decade on, new research commissioned by CEED and conducted by Climate Analytics finds that a 1.5°C-compatible transition to 100% renewables is feasible for the Philippine power sector – contrary to the claim of government and industry players alike that we need gas and LNG as ‘bridge fuel.’ That continued fossil fuel use well into 2050 cannot be avoided. Our renewable energy potential also turns out to be a sleeping giant of over 1,200 GW for solar and wind alone, and if tapped, it will bring socio-economic benefits. Such is also the case for renewables-rich Southeast Asia.

Hosting this year’s COP is a region that is among the world’s biggest oil and gas exporters. It is where the first LNG shipment that marked the Philippines’ entry into the LNG value chain came from, to the detriment of its energy transition. The fact that a petroleum-rich region opened its arms to host a critical round of climate talks invites countries, governments, corporations and financiers behind gas and other fossil fuels to go beyond their business interests for the climate and planet.

The challenge of reshaping Southeast Asia’s power is at hand. It can be won by communities, civil society, and all within and without Southeast Asia rallying behind the fight for 1.5°C at COP 28 and beyond. This is all the more so if we treat 1.5°C as an ultimatum from generations yet to come, whose future is at stake in the critical few years we have left to transform how we power our world.

Gerry Arances is founder and executive director of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) in the Philippines

Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) is a think-do organisation that conducts research and advocacy and partners with communities and basic sectors for energy democracy, ecological integrity and a people-centred development. Established in 2015, CEED is composed of individuals with a heart for the environment and for the people.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Energy Tracker Asia.

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