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How region can meet sustainable energy goal

By Shamshad Akhtar | China Daily | Updated: 2017-01-16 07:16

How region can meet sustainable energy goal

Workers walk past solar panels and wind turbines (rear) at a newly-built power plant in Hami, Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region, China, September 17, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

The Asia-Pacific region has reached a turning point in its energy trajectory. The energy solutions that have fuelled growth in the region over the past decades are no longer compatible with the sustainable development aspirations of the region's nations. In transitioning to a new era of sustainable energy, policymakers across the region face complex decisions. Supplies must be secure and affordable, and must fill the energy access gap which leaves half a billion people across the region without access to electricity.

Mitigating the local impacts of energy generation and use, however, will be vital to resolving problems such as air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that aggravate climate change. Solutions exist, but only through regional cooperation and integration can the Asia-Pacific transition to sustainable energy in time to meet the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Countries have committed to moving toward a more diverse and low-carbon energy mix through the 2030 Agenda and the Paris climate change agreement. However, fossil fuels remain a major part of the regional energy mix, accounting for up three quarters of electricity generation. Unless the region's countries work together to accelerate the incorporation of sustainable energy into their strategies, business-as-usual approaches will see a continuation of fossil fuel use and its associated impacts.

If the countries that enjoy surpluses, such as hydropower and natural gas, trade these resources with those that suffer from energy shortages through new cross-border power grids, it can open up enormous opportunities for both economic growth and decarbonization.

The energy technology renaissance already underway in some countries is playing a vital role in the transition. New technologies are reducing the cost of clean energy and renewable power. Smart grids and electric vehicles are rapidly gaining market share. Since 2010, the cost of solar power generation has declined by 58 percent, with the cost of wind power down by one-third.

The International Renewable Energy Agency projects cost reductions of 59 percent in solar power and 12 percent in wind power within 10 years, edging below fossil fuel electricity costs in most Asia-Pacific countries. Advances in long-distance power transmission technologies enable the linking of renewable energy resource-rich areas such as the Gobi Desert, Central Asia and Far Eastern Russia, with distant population centers. Asia-Pacific has emerged as an engine for clean energy, both as a manufacturing center for renewable energy and as the leading region for deployment, with $160 billion invested in renewables in 2015.

Energy storage technologies for vehicles and power applications have also leapt ahead, offering flexibility in power usage and balancing variable electricity generation from renewables.

But despite these encouraging developments, the success of the energy transition will require sustained commitment at national and regional levels through better policies, incentives and allocation of investments.

Regional cooperation, through sharing of policy experiences, building capacity and mobilizing finance can play a significant role in helping countries to implement their own energy sector reforms and capture the many co-benefits. The importance of regional energy cooperation is evident in the transboundary nature of many prominent energy challenges-improving regional energy security, managing air pollution and establishing cross-border energy infrastructure. And long-term regional dialogue is required to further develop these complex and infrastructure-intensive initiatives.

Connecting countries, finding regional solutions and promoting regional standards and guidelines has been at the core of the work of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific for the past 70 years. We recognize the need for regional energy cooperation, and with the support of our member states established an intergovernmental Committee on Energy that will meet for the first time in Bangkok from Jan 17 to 19.

Through the committee, countries will help to map out key energy solutions for the region such as accelerating uptake of renewables and energy efficiency, establishing cross-border energy connectivity, promoting regional approaches to energy security, and providing modern energy access throughout the region to ensure a sustainable energy future for all. Through regional cooperation and integration, I am confident that Asia-Pacific countries can transform their energy trajectories to better serve their people, the region and the planet.

The author is an under-secretary-general of the United Nations and the executive secretary of ESCAP.

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