Asia-Pacific Region Addresses Energy Security Challenges at ESCAP Annual Session

“Asia-Pacific countries need to embrace a new strategic regional cooperation framework urgently to meet the mounting challenge of ‘energy insecurity’ and avoid its implications for the economic prospects of the region and for the plight of its poor,” says Noeleen Heyzer, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

She was speaking at the Ministerial Segment of ESCAP’s annual Commission session which was opened this morning in Bangkok by the Prime Minister of Thailand, Samak Sundaravej.

In a message delivered by Ms. Heyzer, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, noted that the Asia-Pacific region is lagging behind in providing access to energy services: “Some 1.7 billion people in the region are using traditional biomass fuels, and one billion people still lack access to electricity.”

“While soaring energy prices grab news headlines, the human suffering of energy price hikes is often forgotten,’ said Mr. Ban. The victims are very poor people who “pay a much higher price - in terms of failing health; lost opportunities for education or employment, especially for girls and women; and degraded environment.”

The Prime Minister, in his inaugural address, noted that the Asia-Pacific region “urgently and seriously needs to consider energy management reform, promotion of cooperation in the energy sector, efficient energy usage, clean energy promotion, and development of alternative and renewable energy.”

“ESCAP can play a complementary yet valuable role as a depository of best practices and know-how for the greater benefit of the peoples of Asia and the Pacific,” added Mr. Samak.

In its theme study for the Commission session, Energy Security and Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific, ESCAP highlights energy deprivation in the region’s developing countries and how their hopes of reducing poverty and achieving other key Millennium Development Goals are now being undermined by the alarming rise in energy prices. Spiralling energy prices, the study notes, pose a serious threat to environmentally sustainable economic development which is crucial in helping the poor become a part of the region’s remarkable economic success story.

The surge in energy prices across the world is prompted to a large extent by the rising demand for energy. Between 1980 and 2005, world energy consumption more than doubled, with energy demand in Asia-Pacific countries increasing more rapidly than elsewhere. Yet, average per capita energy consumption in the region remains low. The 2005 per capita energy consumption of the region was only 749 kilogrammes of oil equivalent (kgoe) against the global figure of 1,071 kgoe. A poor person in the region’s developing countries consumed far less than this, often below the minimum needed to meet the basic needs of life.

ESCAP warns that the region cannot count on continuing increases in energy supplies to fuel its economic growth. At the current rate, by 2030, Asia and the Pacific will account for half of the world’s energy demand. Much of that - more than 80% - will be for fossil fuels such as oil and coal, making the regional not only vulnerable to volatile energy prices but also to carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

Asia and the Pacific need to move toward a new sustainable energy paradigm, said Ms. Heyzer, one that includes “improving energy efficiency and demand-side management which will enhance renewable energy and distributed energy system, lower economic vulnerability to volatile energy prices, lessen ecological vulnerability to climate change, and ultimately support sustainable economic growth without compromising the environmental sustainability of the region.”

“The key to such a shift, however, is not technologies or technical know-how alone”, Ms Heyzer stressed. “Indeed, many countries in the region have individually pursued such options for long years without achieving the paradigm shift needed today. “

She added that with energy prices now experiencing a relentless upwards trend and regional economies more closely integrated than ever, the conditions have changed and new opportunities have emerged. As an example of ways in which the risks imposed by world energy markets can be mitigated, she cited a trans-Asian energy system, building on existing and evolving sub-regional systems, and guided by the collective wisdom of regional policy makers.

“Resources, technologies, skills, investment funds and experiences across the region could be brought together to develop a common energy infrastructure that can benefit all,” Ms. Heyzer said. “ And ESCAP, as the regional arm of the UN, is ready to play a role in facilitating cooperation towards this.”