UN’s Noeleen Heyzer Underlines Need for New Thinking on Asia-Pacific’s Energy Security

Greater political will is needed to shift the energy scenario of Asia and the Pacific from one of rising energy insecurity to one of sustainable energy – while ensuring that such change is inclusive and takes into account the needs of the region’s poor and disadvantaged.

That was one of the key messages in a presentation given by UN Under-Secretary-General Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, at a discussion entitled “Securing Asia’s Energy Future” held by a leading think tank, the Asia Society, in New York last night.

Before a wide-ranging audience – made up of policy experts, analysts, diplomats and members of the public watching her presentation online – Dr. Heyzer spoke on the need for a sustainable energy security framework for Asia and the Pacific.

Noting that the region’s spectacular economic growth was fuelled by its energy consumption, she said there was an urgent need to move from a “vicious cycle of rising energy insecurity to a virtuous cycle of sustainable energy.” The Executive Secretary identified three elements necessary for the “virtuous” cycle: an emphasis on the quality of economic growth rather than its quantity, including the need for this growth to be inclusive; greater reliance on renewable energy and improved energy efficiency; and, actions to mitigate climate change.

Dr. Heyzer stressed that the “virtuous” cycle was not aiming for lower economic growth. “The intent is not to curtail energy consumption essential to growth but only to discourage consumptiveness that results in waste and carries a higher economic and environmental cost,” she said.

In her remarks, Dr. Heyzer also wrapped the Asia-Pacific region’s energy security situation into the wider work of ESCAP. “While energy security is the subject of interest today, its ultimate objective is inclusive and sustainable development that includes all, especially the poor and the women who have been largely left out of the Asia-Pacific economic success story so far,” she said, noting that one billion people in the region remain without electricity. The Executive Secretary noted that least-developed and landlocked countries, together with small island developing states, are expected to bear the brunt of the adverse effects of rising energy insecurity. She recalled a recent visit to an atoll in the Pacific, where she saw first-hand the impact of rising energy costs on the real economy through its knock-on effects on jobs, costs and leading to more migration.

ESCAP’s efforts in the energy field were also highlighted in Dr. Heyzer’s presentation. The regional commission has identified six key actions needed for a sustainable energy strategy in the Asia-Pacific region: ecological costs should be internalized into energy price structures; energy demand should be better managed; investment in sustainable energy infrastructure should be promoted more aggressively through appropriate fiscal and financial incentives; research and development should be scaled up to encourage technology innovation; further removal of trade barriers to enhance competition in achieving cost reductions; and, a long-term vision of distributed energy systems to elevate the role of renewable energy systems from small-scale options to large-scale replacements for conventional power generation and grids.

But, despite technological advances, achieving sustainable energy strategy in the Asia-Pacific region is impossible without political support from the region’s countries, Dr Heyzer said.
“An energy paradigm shift cannot be pursued in isolation of a broader paradigm shift from “quantity of growth” towards “quality of growth,” Dr. Heyzer said, adding, “It can only be successful when it is effectively pursued by all countries.”

She added that ESCAP, as the regional arm of the United Nations, is assisting the region to pursue the vision and strategy of a “virtuous cycle of sustainable energy.” Dr. Heyzer noted that energy security was the main theme of its 64th Commission Session, held in April this year. In addition, ESCAP is acting as an agent for change for the paradigm shift, promoting and supporting countries to implement that shift and acting as a facilitator and regional hub for policy dialogue and consultation with stakeholders on the issue.

Dr. Heyzer’s presentation was webcast over the Internet, and members of the public – from around the world – were able to pose questions on the topic of the Asia-Pacific region’s energy to her directly. A video excerpt and a complete audio recording of Dr. Heyzer’s presentation will be made available shortly at www.asiasociety.org.

The New York event was part of the Asia Society’s “Asian Women Leaders” series. Previous speakers in the series have included Afghanistan’s Minister for Women Affairs, Masouda Jalal, and a leading Pakistani human rights advocate and UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Asma Jahangir.