SINGAPORE: Southeast Asia faces a number of energy-related challenges, but remains a "critical" region, said International Energy Agency (IEA)’s executive director Fatih Birol on Tuesday (Oct 27).
"Southeast Asia is very important in terms of energy, in terms of economy and ... from a geopolitical point of view, a very important part of the world," said Dr Birol in his opening address at the Global Ministerial Conference on System Integration of Renewables.
“Sometimes, some of the observers do not understand the importance of Southeast Asia, that the region in fact deserves," he said.
Dr Birol also noted that when it comes to the growth of global energy demand, the region also has a “lion’s share”.
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“When you look at trends in terms of its share in the global energy demand growth, it has a lion’s share - very strong growth,” said the IEA chief, who attended the event virtually.
“It is the very reason many companies around the world ... are very keen to work with the Southeast Asian countries, because (of) economic growth that comes from that very region.”
At the same time Mr Birol highlighted that Southeast Asia faces a number of energy-related challenges.
“The region has - in terms of energy - many challenges. Air quality (is) a critical challenge. Emissions, CO2 emissions, (are) a critical challenge. Not being able to mobilise the investments in a timely manner for the energy sector (is) another important challenge,” he said.
“But again, I want to highlight that this region is critical and IEA is doing everything we can, in order to highlight the importance of this region for energy and beyond.”
Speaking at one of the conference’s panel sessions, Second Minister for Trade and Industry Tan See Leng said Singapore hopes to halve emissions to 33 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050 and to achieve net zero emissions “as soon as viable” in the second half of this century.
This is part of Singapore’s long-term low emissions development strategy, he added.
“To achieve this, the Singapore Government aims to transform all of our energy industries. We will actively and aggressively invest in research and development to harness renewable energy,” said Dr Tan.
“We will increase decarbonisation, and we will pursue and leverage international collaboration such as yourselves, with the IEA, to develop our renewable energy potential.”
IMPACT OF COVID-19
IEA's Dr Birol also noted in his address that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, global energy demand this year will fall about 5 per cent.
“We all still have the bitter memories of the financial crisis in 2008, 2009. At the time, global energy demands declined as well. But this year's decline is seven times larger than the decline we had during the financial crisis,” he said.
Dr Birol also noted the IEA expects global energy investments to decline about 20 per cent across the energy sector.
“The only part (where) we don't see a decline in investment is renewable energies, mainly because they are getting strong support from governments, the government guarantees are in place,” he added.
Panelists also touched on measures undertaken by governments and the private sector to enhance renewable electricity uptake and integration amid the COVID-19 economy.
Secretary of Energy from the Republic of the Philippines Alfonso Cusi said one of the country’s energy industry’s main takeaways from the COVID-19 crisis is the importance of “energy security”.
“One of the energy industry's main learning (points) from the COVID-19 crisis is the importance of energy security. The pandemic underscores the need for the energy sector to be resilient and flexible. The pandemic has also revealed the vulnerability of energy systems, that they could be interrupted,” said Mr Cusi.
"This is why the Philippine government is looking at developing all possible energy sources, not just RE (renewable energy) to help the country become energy secure.”
Noting that the pandemic is an opportunity for a developing country like the Philippines to review energy policies, he added: “I cannot overemphasise the need for integrating all sources of energy into our power mix. Our country is hungry for power and we must act immediately to bridge the gap in our supply shortage.
“While we have initially embraced a technology-neutral policy, our periodic assessment of our country's energy requirements is paving the way for innovative adaptations in our policy directions. Among these is the opening of our geothermal and hydro sectors to greater foreign investment to further brighten the prospects of our early landscape.”
Portuguese Minister for Environment and Climate Action João Pedro Matos Fernandes said the COVID-19 pandemic brought “additional reasons to pursue with renewed ambition” renewable energy and the country’s climate goals.
“Energy systems are at the core of any recovery strategy. Nationally, regionally and globally huge stimulus packages are being designed and deployed, focusing on the creation of jobs and promoting economic development, hand in hand with environmental sustainability,” said Mr Fernandes.
“There is no magic formula to achieve this, but we know that we need to innovate and facilitate investments in new and low carbon technologies, as well as energy storage and infrastructure. We are aware of the magnitude of the challenge but our best performance on renewables and greenhouse gas emission reduction gives us the confidence that we will succeed.”