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Going Green – Energy Security and Climate Change

Updated On: Oct 19, 2007

Al Gore’s clinching of the Nobel Prize, together with the UN’s Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, has thrown the spotlight back on environmentalism again.

This can only be positive for a world that needs reprieve from environmental destruction and also the Southeast Asian region which is a tropical lung for the world.

China seems to be leading the way in the fight against environmental destruction. China is quietly emerging as a global force in renewable-energy technologies. China which currently gets 8 per cent of its energy from renewable sources has an official target to increase that to around 15 per cent by 2020. There are many examples of Chinese implementation of environmentalism. Solar water heaters can be seen on the roofs of remote village homes and endless lines of new urban apartments.

The Chinese private sector is also getting into the act of going green. Former US vice-president Al Gore recently presented Chinese firm Daxu, the makers of a coal-burning stove with an Ashden Award which promotes world-leading sustainable technologies. Other Chinese firms are also beginning to dominate the market for other environmentally friendly technologies like solar. For example, Jiangsu-based Suntech Power is one of the world's leading makers of equipment that turns sunlight into electricity.

In Southeast Asia, the search for alternative energy as oil price continues to climb and awareness on how climate change will impact their livelihood have been stepped up.

Manila's infamous garbage mountain at Payatas is one of the first projects targeted for a big clean up cum “recycling”. Just seven years ago, more than 200 squatters living close to the dumpsite died in an avalanche of refuse after heavy rains. Although the area is closed now, scrap-wood shanties still exist near the closed dumpsite with some 1,200 families scraping a living by collecting recyclable garbage from the landfill.

Part of the plan involves making use of the dump as a source of renewable energy. Methane deposits from the old dumpsite will soon be converted into electricity, powering the biogas plant of project developer Pangea Green Energy with surplus gas sold for profits. 'But this is primarily an environmental project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,' said Pangea's president Jennifer Fernan. 34 gas wells drilled to depths of up to 21m are scheduled to start extracting methane. Pangea expects Payatas to earn one million euros a year in CERs over a 10 year period.

Other initiatives include those from the civilian non-governmental sector. Seven woman organizations will plant an estimated 10 million trees throughout Indonesia starting on December 1, 2007, to help deal with climate change. The planting of 10 million trees was also expected to be put in the book of records, Dewi Motik, chairman of the tree planting organizing committee told the press. "There will be 10 million trees, and the event will be the first ever," Dewi Motik said. The seven organizations to get involved in the tree planting activities would be the Solidarity of the United Indonesian Cabinet Ministers` Wives (Sikib), Kowani, Dharma Pertiwi, Dharma Wanita Persatuan, the Woman Alliance for Sustainable Development, The Family Welfare Movement (PKK), Bhayangkari and the organizing committee of the Mothers` Day 2007.

Foreign groups are also involved in such efforts. Environmental activist group Greenpeace said on Tuesday it has set up a forest defenders camp (FDC) in Indonesia`s Riau province as part of efforts to prevent deforestation which produces carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming. The FDC would cooperate with local people in conserving forests, Emmy Hafild, Greenpeace executive director for Southeast Asia, said. The volunteers who worked for the FDC would get involved in a number of activities such as conducting surveillance, extinguishing forest fires, examining the depth of peatland and surveying biodiversity resources, she said.

Closely linked to the issue of climate change and environmental sustainability is the search for alternative energy and issue of energy security.  When a technical fault cut off Indonesian gas supply to Singaporein June 2004, half the island was in darkness for a day, emphasizing Singapore's dependance on Indonesian gas and the flaw in over-relying on one source of energy and the competence of its operators.Indonesia’s rather unpredictable political situation and calls for more gas to be used locally and less to be exported may endanger Singapore’s energy needs someday. Said legislator and economist Drajad Wibowo: 'If we export the gas, it will benefit only those few in the gas business and their overseas buyers. So we should ask the government whose side it's on - foreign investors or local businesses?' Indeed, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono indicated last year ‘more gas will be supplied to domestic industries'.

Singapore, a state famous for its foresight in planning, Singapore approved plans for its first LNG terminal in 2006. Due to start operating in 2012, the $1-billion facility means the island will no longer be totally dependent on gas piped in directly from its neighbours. Supplies can be shipped in the form of LNG from sources farther away, such as QatarIran and Australia, and then converted through the terminal into gas form. Singapore need not be overdependent on a single source anymore.

Because of the regional energy crunch, every single conventional energy source in Southeast Asia is now treated with great care. For example, the Cambodian government has formed a body to manage the country's Tonle Sap lake basin, which is thought to contain onshore oil and gas reserves. The body - named the Tonle Sap Basin Authority - will be headed by Tao Seng Hour, a minister in Prime Minister Hun Sen's government. "The authority will do studies for oil exploration," Tao Seng Hour was quoted as saying by the newspaper. Foreign powers have already been busy at work in this part of Southeast Asia. In 2005, U.S. energy giant Chevron Corp. discovered oil off the Cambodian coast and plans to drill 10 more wells by the end of 2007.

Cambodia expects increased income from oil and has great hopes for this developing industry. To gain revenue from this area, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has said he opposes designating the area a World Heritage Site, saying such protected status would hinder any fuel exploration there. Hundreds of millions of barrels of oil are thought to lie off-shore, raising hopes that it could help pull Cambodia out of poverty. Several foreign oil companies have negotiated with Cambodia over exploration rights and production is expected to start by 2010.

Despite diverging into different energy sources, most of the energy needs in Asia is still fuelled by coal.  A recent report by UBS however warned that the Asia-Pacific region could face a shortage of thermal coal used for power generation and cement by the year 2020. The expected shortfall of 100 million tonnes a year is equivalent to two-thirds of annual exports from Indonesia, the world's largest exporter of thermal coal, said the report. Asian power companies are buying into coal assets to manage the risk of rising prices, said UBS analyst Stephen Oldfield. By 2020, demand for thermal coal in the region may rise to 6 billion tonnes per year, 4.6 billion of which would go to power generation, UBS said. This is up from 2.5 billion tonnes per year, with 1.8 billion for power generation, in 2006.

There is thus clearly a need to search for alternative fuels. East Asia’s drive for alternative fuel, especially the much-vaunted biofuel often runs into criticisms from the West, especially Western Europe. The ambitious plans of India and China to ramp up biofuel production will deplete their water reserves and seriously affect their ability to meet food demands, a new study has said. China plans to use maize whileIndia wants to use sugar cane for biofuel production. Both crops rely heavily on irrigation, said Ms Charlotte de Fraiture, a scientist at the International Water Management Institute (IMWI) and lead author of the study. 'But to grow biofuel crops you need to use more water and land,' Ms de Fraiture said. 'China and India need a fresh approach, to re-look the way they produce biofuels,' Ms de Fraiture said. 'They have to scale down considerably.'

But, European environmentalism or not, this is not going to stop the industry from moving forward in East Asia. As global crude oil prices race past US$80 (S$120) a barrel, East Asian states including China and India are increasingly relying on biofuels which produce energy by using organic waste, wood, dung and residues from crops like sugarcane and grains to power their economies. After all, East Asian biofuel initiatives mirror those in other non-European countries like the US. President Bush's stated goal is to increase biofuel production about six times, to 35 billion gallons, by 2017.

Turning the tables around, large developing countries like Indonesia have instead asked the developed West to do more for the world’s environment. "Countries that seek to enhance their carbon sinks -- through forestation, afforestation, avoided deforestation -- should be given incentive and rewarded fairly for doing so," Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told the U.N. General Assembly. "While the developing countries strive to protect and enhance their environment and its biodiversity, the developed countries must extend support," Yudhoyono said. "They must lighten the burden of developing countries in carrying out that immense task -- through incentives and the transfer of environmentally sound technology," he added.

Ministers from 40 nations, including the U.S., will discuss ways to tackle global warming in an informal meeting in BogorWest Java between Oct. 23-25. Indonesian State Minister for the Environment and incoming president of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) Rachmat Witoelar said the meeting would discuss a paper presented by Indonesia covering issues including post-Kyoto Protocol and the Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries (REDD) scheme.

"We will listen to opinions and take input from the ministers on our paper, although this will not be binding (to our position at the conference in Bali)," he said after a meeting with senior envoys Ali Alatas and Emil Salim in his office. Minister Rachmat said the Bogor meeting would be the first step preceding the Bali conference with 40 ministers representing 191 signatory states of the Kyoto Protocol. "The meeting would also build consensus for negotiation in the upcoming Bali conference in the framework of post-2012 Kyoto Protocol," he said.  (15 October 2007)

Sources:

Asia-Pacific could face shortage of coal (Bangkok Post, 13 October 2007)

ChinaIndia's push for biofuel will lead to water shortage (Straits Times, 12 October 2007)

Cambodia forms body to deal with prospect of onshore oil in Tonle Sap lake (The China Post, 12 Oct 2007)

World environment ministers to meet in Bogor (Jakarta Post, 12 October 2007)

Cambodia 'set to probe for oil' despite environment worries (Channelnewsasia, 12 Oct 2007)

Cambodia Eyes Onshore Oil Prospect (AP, 12 Oct 2007)

Biofuel corn threat to U.S. water quality, supply (People’s Daily, 11 Oct 2007)

Indonesian women to plant 10 million trees to help overcome climate change (Antara, 10 October 2007)

Why S'pore needs to diversify gas imports (Straits Times, 9 October 2007)

Greenpeace set up forest defenders camp in Riau (Antara, 9 October 2007)

Manila trash mountain to be turned into energy plant (Straits Times, 8 October 2007)

Clean energy quietly taking hold in China (Straits Times, 8 October 2007)

Indonesia urges incentives for forest conservation (Antara/Reuters, 26 September 2007)