Southeast Asia’s green potential

A Green New Deal could reinvigorate Southeast Asia’s economy after the coronavirus pandemic recedes while preparing the region for the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change, argued trade expert James Guild recently in the Diplomat, an online news magazine.

“It certainly seems like now is the time to align infrastructure investment with long-term sustainability goals, given that the pandemic has created an urgent need for big fiscal stimulus,” he wrote.

But he won’t be easy, Guild cautioned.

Asia needs $26 trillion in infrastructure improvements, including almost $15 trillion in energy and more than $8 trillion in transportation. The investments that answer those needs often entail political and security risks that undercut their value, however.

For example, Laos has sought to build hydroelectric dams that could power local and neighboring economies, generating revenues and cutting carbon emissions. China funded much of the projects with loans, however. Unable to pay off the loans, Laotian officials had to cede much of their power grid to a Chinese company.

Leaders seeking to go green also face domestic opposition. Indonesia has ample opportunities for sustainable energy. But the massive archipelago is also a coal exporter. The local coal industry routinely lobbies against the government granting too much support to sustainable power that might undercut the coal business.

Still, the region has success stories. The Philippines is a fossil fuel importer. That has made it easier for the country to adopt renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Vietnam similarly made big strides towards sustainability, reforming rules to make solar and wind more competitive with fossil fuels, after the country started becoming a net energy importer in 2015.

The takeaway is that international economic factors, local politics and regulatory issues and similar roadblocks are as likely to stymie a green revolution in Southeast Asia as much a drop-off in public sentiment about sustainability.


Image credit: Mai Lan via Flickr


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