A coal barge floats down the Mahakam River in Samarinda in Indonesian Borneo. Activists want an end to new coal plants in SE Asia and have set up groups to arrange funds for 'greener' projects. Photo: Kemal Jufri / Greenpeace Indonesia.

Environmental groups meeting in Bangkok have called on China, Japan and South Korea to stop funding new coal power plants across Southeast Asia. They also called on Australia to stop exporting coal.

Nithi Nesadurai, the coordinator of Climate Action Network in Southeast Asia, said: “Southeast Asia has relied on fossil fuels to support its economic growth. Unfortunately, some countries are planning to rely heavily on coal for the future.

“Apart from going against the spirit of the Paris Agreement [signed in late 2016], this strategy will block solutions for energy efficiency and renewable energy and act as a barrier for finance for renewables. This has to change: new coal projects must be halted and financial flows have to be shifted away from coal into renewable energy and low carbon development.”

Members of CAN in Southeast Asia, Japan and Asia specifically called out China, Japan and South Korea to stop financing fossil fuel projects in Southeast Asia, and for Australia to stop exporting coal and “to step up as a climate leader”.

Yuki Tanabe, from the Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society said: “Japan committed in its long-term strategy towards the Paris Agreement, to make its energy development in line with the long-term goal of the Paris Agreement. However, Japan is still actively supporting coal-fired power projects in Japan and overseas without any scientific rationale. Thus, Japan should remember its own word, and should end its support for coal energy.”

Fiona Ryan, a Climate Action Network from northern Australia, said: “The Australian government’s complete paralysis on climate action is a frustration to our Pacific neighbors. Its lack of action on climate change and in stopping fossil fuels such as coal, in particular, is also a threat to the Great Barrier Reef and the $50 billion it delivers to the Australian economy. Investments in coal will result in ‘stranded assets’ with huge consequence on people’s lives and livelihoods in addition to a ruined national environment. The future is renewables.”

Business backing new coalitions

Meanwhile, new coalitions between business and civil society groups have formed in several Southeast Asian countries to push governments and support their plans to counter the “climate emergency” in the Asia Pacific.

In Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, groups made up of NGOs, the private sector, government, academia and other actors are forming to speed up the flow of finance into low-carbon developments.

People from business and civil society groups have gathered in Bangkok this week for ‘Climate Week’ in the lead-up to the UN Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23 and the UN Climate Change
Conference (COP25) in Chile in December.

A chapel stands amid encroaching waters in Sitio Pariahan, Bulacan. Areas north of Manila have sunk 4-6cm a year since 2003, according to satellite monitoring. Photo: AFP/ Noel Celis

Push for renewables

Southeast Asia is seen as critical for the world to keep global temperatures under 1.5 degrees Celsius, as per the Paris Agreement, because it is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world but continues to be largely reliant on fossil fuels, particularly coal, despite its wealth of renewable energy resources such as solar, geothermal and hydro.

The SHIFT project – aimed at getting financial investment in low-carbon developments in Southeast Asia – has supported the establishment of three groups: the Indonesia Low Emissions Network (JIRE), the Climate Action Partnership (in the Philippines) and the Vietnam Coalition for Climate Action (VCCA) in August.

JIRE is working with government representatives in Jakarta and some of Indonesia’s largest companies to formulate energy efficiency policy recommendations for the second Widodo government, which will be inaugurated in October. Its convenor – Yayasan Mita Hijau, or Green Partner Foundation – has researched new financing mechanisms for the energy efficiency and other low carbon development strategies across Indonesia.

And in Vietnam, GreenID Vietnam has partnered with WWF to form a coalition of businesses, civil society groups, financial service companies, consumer communities, universities, research and technical support agencies, and associations to promote ‘green growth’. One of their key projects is the Million Green Homes program, which aims to power one million houses and buildings across the country with solar PV rooftop and energy efficiency systems by 2030.

Big waves surge over a sea wall in Shenzhen in Guangdong province in February 2019. Cities built close to the water are likely to face increasing problems due to rising sea levels and more severe storms due to global warming. Photo: AFP

Dicky Edwin Hindarto, from Yayasan Mitra Hijau, is a founding member JIRE. He said: “Indonesia has a high target for reducing national greenhouse gas emissions. So, all parties, including the business sector, must be involved. JIRE is the first network that aims to assist the Indonesia government in doing this.”

Riedo Abellera Panaligan, who is president of the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology, is doing similar work in the Philippines for the Climate Action Partnership. CAP, he said, wanted to “drive up efforts to pursue deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions at the city, community and institutional-levels in the Philippines”.

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