Colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to have an opportunity to speak at the closing plenary of the Asia Clean Energy Forum 2020.
At the outset, I would like to express my appreciation to the Asian Development Bank and other organizers of this important Forum for making this virtual week a great success.
The Forum served as a critical call-to-action for the sustainable energy transition under the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a wakeup call to scale-up efforts to achieve clean energy future across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.
Through my interactions with leaders and senior policymakers, I recognise the growing urgency to address climate change by accelerating the clean energy transition in the context of COVID-19 recovery plan. Climate change poses a dire threat to human lives and societies, and it highlights the need for continued preparation and robust crisis response systems.
The COVID-19 outbreak has caused severe negative pressures on the socio-economic dimensions of SDGs in our region. With varying degrees of impacts and lockdown measures, governments are focused on controlling the spread of the pandemic in one hand and ensuring smooth revival of economic activities on the other hand.
Distinguished colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,
The availability of modern and affordable energy has transformed the Asia-Pacific region, helping countries to build their economies and lifting millions out of poverty as highlighted in ESCAP report on “Energy Transition Pathways For the 2030 Agenda in Asia and the Pacific”.
At the regional level, there is continued reliance on polluting and carbon-intensive sources of energy. For example, the Asia-Pacific region accounts for almost 60% of global total carbon dioxide emissions, nearly two-thirds of which are from energy sector. Furthermore, the Asia-Pacific region accounted for about 80% of the world’s coal consumption in 2018.
During the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’ visit to our region last year, he called upon member States to end their reliance on coal. The Secretary-General also emphasized the need for imposing taxes on carbon emissions; put an end to the trillions of dollars’ worth of estimated subsidies for fossil fuels; and a stop to construction of new coal-fired power stations, if we are to stand a chance of ending the climate crisis.
In the context of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we see both risks and opportunities. The risks are the potential of declining investment in renewables and energy efficiency, supply chain issues and the policy focus shifting away from sustainable and low carbon energy. But the opportunities derive from the enormous potential for clean energy to form the mainstay of the economic stimulus packages announced by member States.
Let us consider how we can turn these risks into opportunities as we implement the Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. I would like to highlight three possible focus areas:
First is to scale-up investment in renewable energy projects, more efficient buildings and electric vehicles in order to advance national and global goals on emissions and sustainability, create high quality jobs and reinvigorate economies. There is a need for the stimulus packages in developing countries to focus on rural and community sustainable energy infrastructure development such as an improved access to electricity and clean cooking. We must ensure inclusion, particularly of vulnerable groups, and stakeholders in all these recovery policies and strategic investments planning.
Second is to assist member States in rationalising fossil fuel subsidies firmly on their energy planning agenda. This will not only level the playing field for clean energy, but free up fiscal space for the stimulus efforts. The most opportune time to do this is now, when the oil prices are at historic low.
Third is to support member States in building back better in the post-COVID-19 recovery plan. Recently, we have developed Socio-Economic Response to COVID-19: ESCAP Framework that underscored the importance of energy transition and decarbonization in the overarching framework of build back better. We urge governments in the Asia-Pacific region to integrate their responses to COVID-19 with their clean energy targets and long-term efforts to combat climate change. This will create transformed and resilient societies with stronger health systems, ensure fewer people living in extreme poverty, more gender equality, and a greener environment for all.
Distinguished colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,
The current crisis offers a unique opportunity for our regional leadership to reflect on our relationship with the nature and environment. Reductions in carbon emissions and pollution during the COVID-19 outbreak have given the environment the needed breathing space.
Going forward, our socio-economic response could serve as a turning point for member States to create enabling policy and regulatory environments within an integrated framework that are more resilient against future pandemics and crises, particularly on their implications to energy and climate change.
ESCAP stands ready to collaborate and leverage the Asia Clean Energy Forum and other regional fora to learn from each other’s best practices, knowledge and experiences of policymakers.
Let me reiterate that I am fully committed to encourage stronger regional partnerships in delivering solution-oriented strategies in advancing energy transition and sustainable development goals in Asia and the Pacific.
Thank you for your attention. I wish you a very successful Forum.