Developing Asia needs low carbon path to growth

Developing Asia needs to expand energy access without compromising environmental sustainability.

This is the main thrust of the Seventh Asia Clean Energy Forum (ACEF) hosted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the World Resources Institute.

The three-day forum, which opened Wednesday at the ADB’s headquarters in the Philippine capital, gathered together around 600 government officials, scientists, investors, and project developers from 55 countries. The participants will discuss and form new partnerships that will help reduce energy poverty and promote clean energy in the region.

In his opening remarks, ADB Vice President Bindu Lohani said that four key issues will be addressed at the forum innovative clean energy technology, policies that will support clean energy development, financing and energy for all.

The keyword is low-carbon development, an important issue as the growing Asian economies also have to contend with the harsh impact of climate change.

Indeed, low carbon development also includes universal access to energy. This is especially crucial now as the United Nations has declared 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, a year to mobilize action so that all people, both the rich and poor, can avail themselves of modern and affordable energy by 2030.

"We have prioritized and maximized access to energy for the poor and we must strengthen global momentum in support of universal energy access," Lohani said.

Asia is home to some of the world’s fastest rising economies. But economic growth has failed to solve inequality as evidenced by energy poverty. The International Energy Agency said more than 1.3 billion worldwide do not have access to electricity, with half of them living in developing Asian countries. Likewise, about 1.9 billion people in the region still use firewood and biomass for cooking.

Laws and regulations that impede energy trade and investment, lack of investment on public infrastructure and limited public funds devoted to research and development are just some of the factors that contributed to energy poverty, analysts noted.

Yet, increasing access to cheap and reliable sources of energy is not enough. Developing Asia is vulnerable to extreme weather changes brought by a warmer planet. It is thus essential to harness energy efficiency and develop renewable energy sources, they said.

The challenge for the region, according to Pil-Bae Song, ADB’s senior advisor and practice leader for energy, is to promote energy security while addressing climate change concerns.

Song said that in Asia, several governments have championed the use of renewable energy, hence increasing energy supply while limiting energy emissions. He cited the energy development plans of India and China, which include developing solar energy and wind power.

So far, renewable energy is gaining ground in Asia, thanks to supportive government policies.

The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) cited several policies that helped to promote the use of renewable energy in the region.

REN21 cited India, which has targeted the addition of 130MW of off-grid capacity in 2011. South Korea required public buildings to generate at least 10 percent of total heat demand through renewable energy. China is also mandating the increased use of biofuel.