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Accelerating a just energy transition in Asia: Voices from civil society and business

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) embarked its sixth assessment report cycle. On April 4, the third working group report (WG3) was published, which reviewed the research on global climate change mitigation.  this WG3 report, pointing out that in 2025, the world must peak its carbon emissions. Otherwise, with the current emission scenario, the global average temperature will continue to rise towards the end of this century by 3.2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrialization, which will become catastrophe.

In other words, global warming still continues, but time is running out, and we must accelerate the implementation of measures to reduce carbon emissions from now on. Against this background, among the various climate change mitigation actions listed in the report, the energy transition is the most critical. 

Asia’s energy transition has a lot of room to speed up and scale up

CCIL organised the RE Webinar, "Accelerating the Just Energy Transition in Asia: Voices from Civil Society and Business", on 7 April. It was timely to respond the IPCC’s findings. A total of 13 experts from Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, India, Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong3 were invited to outline the current situation of energy development in the region and the similarities and differences between each other, and put forward analysis and suggestions on how to speed up the just energy transition.

The webinar, "Accelerating the Just Energy Transition in Asia: Voices from Civil Society and Business"2, which was held on April 7th by CarbonCare InnoLab, was timely to respond the IPCC’s findings. A total of 13 experts from Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, India, Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong were invited to outline the current situation of energy development in the region and the similarities and differences between each other, and put forward analysis and suggestions on how to speed up the just energy transition.

The IPCC report pointed out that the global solar and wind power generation technologies have already matured, and the cost of power generation has dropped by 85% and 55% respectively in the past decade, and the power generation of the both renewable energies can also increase significantly before 2030. Renewable energy has great potential for development in the foreseeable future. However, Zhao Ang from the Rock Environmental and Energy Institute, Dr. Chao Chia Wei from the Taiwan Environmental Planning Association, Mika Ohbayashi from the Renewable Energy Institute, and Kevin Li of the CarbonCare InnoLab, shared the latest policies and development trends of energy transition. Even if they affirmed the climate change mitigation policies in their respective countries/regions, they still have a long way to go with the advanced economies of Europe and the United States. There are also gaps in comparison with the recommendations made in the IPCC report. They also pointed out that the decision-making process is also top-down, with less attention paid to the specifics of how to formulate and implement decarbonisation pathways. In fact, this problem is also common in Asia and needs to be faced and dealt with by the authorities.

Possibilities and Limitations of Mitigation of Climate Change by Engineering solutions

Professor Jusen Asuka from Japan’s Tohoku University and Mika Ohbayashi are also cautious about the intervention of new engineering and technology solutions, including the reactivation of nuclear energy technology, and the application of carbon removal technologies such as carbon capture and storage. Even though new energy technologies such as green hydrogen have considerable development potential, and the IPCC report have listed the above technologies as mitigation options, their potential very much depends on the maturity of large-scale use of technologies, which usually have longer return on investment, higher costs and potential security risks.

In addition, even though the cost of renewable power generation has dropped significantly, the comparatively high upfront investment cost and the grid instability that may arise from a large amount of renewable energy being connected to the grid are solvable. But the grid operators and regulatory authorities have not seriously looked at. Gahee Han from the Solutions for Our Climate shared the example of Jeju Island, pointing out that due to curtailment by grid operators, the electricity generated by renewable energy cannot be used even if it performs as good as gas-fired power plants. In addition, due to the tight supply of renewable energy components as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and geopolitical tensions, the originally reduced renewable energy generation costs may become unstable, and may also become an obstacle to the development of renewable energy in the region. Therefore, regulators should play a central role in overcoming technical barriers and driving a national or regional energy transition while weighing in costs, benefits and risks.

Meanwhile, all parts of Asia will still face difficulties in how to speed up the decommissioning of coal-fired power plants in the future. Seukyoung Lee from the Solutions for Our Climate shared the example of two local coal-fired power plants that are hindering the early retirement discussions from moving forward because the government is afraid of potential demands for costly compensation, without the initiatives to assess the size of the compensation. Since most power generators in Asia are state-run or public monopoly, the government, as the regulator of the power industry, has not been actively promoting the decommissioning of coal-fired power plants. How to negotiate a set of implementation guidelines and early retirement mechanisms with power generators will be a challenge that needs to be faced and dealt with in the region.

Two Issues of Just Energy Transition: Distributive Justice and Procedural Justice

Looking ahead, the energy transition in Asia will still encounter opportunities and challenges. Jusen Asuka quoted his research and pointed out that the current level of renewable energy technology can already meet Japan's decarbonisation targets, which will generate greater economic benefits and create more employment opportunities than the continued development of fossil fuels and nuclear energy.4 In addition to introducing the important concepts of justice in energy transition, namely distributive justice and procedural justice, Dr. Daphne Mah from Hong Kong Baptist University and Dr. Laurence L. Delina from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology also cited research on Hong Kong’s public housing and subdivided housing households, as well as examples from ASEAN countries.5 The groups that benefit and suffer during the transition process shall be dealt with redistribution of benefits with the principles of openness, transparency and equality.

Dr. Shota Furuya from the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies and Hwang Shute from the Green Advocates Energy Cooperative shared their experience in community-based renewable energy production, setting good examples across Asia. On the other hand, Taiwan has formed a cooperative model, which attaches great importance to the equal participation and reasonable distribution of community members. The examples shared by both experts are encouraging,6 but currently small and fragmented. They also pointed out that the factors of success are members' sense of participation, trust in other members of the community and a sense of belonging to the project, but still need to overcome the legal and power system challenges to the cooperative. This is what needs to be learned in order to develop community-based renewable energy at scale.

Finally, in addition to the support of public and private financing for energy transition, Anjali Viswamohanan from the Asian Investors Group for Climate Change (AIGCC) also advocated that investors should take into account both climate mitigation and adaptation to energy investment, and incorporate just transition into investment principles, including care for labour and community participation. This initiative is still in its infancy, but it is hoped that in the foreseeable future more investors in the region will consider the just transition as a core value in their energy investment decisions. 

This webinar covers a wide range of topics across Asia. The three-hour discussion is obviously unfinished, but it is a good attempt, taking the first step towards multilateral cooperation and discussion on regional energy transition in the future. For Hong Kong participants, there is a lot to learn from their Asian counterparts. However, the least that can be done is that the development of renewable energy still needs to catch up, and the SAR government should raise the carbon reduction target as soon as possible in response to the latest IPCC report and the targets to be achieved by other Asian countries/regions. We look forward to further in-depth discussions with experts on individual topics in the future.

You are welcome to watch the recording here (in English):

Session 1:

You are welcome to download the transcript of the webinar: Session 1 (English version) HERE.


Session 2:

You are welcome to download the transcript of the webinar: Session 1 (English version)  HERE.


Session 3:

You are welcome to download the transcript of the webinar: Session 1 (English version)  HERE.


Speakers (in order of appearance):  

Mr Chong Chan Yau, Co-founder and CEO, CarbonCare InnoLab 

Mr Chong is a graduate from the University of Hong Kong. He obtained a Master's degree in Information Systems from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

He served in the Hong Kong Government as an Administrative Officer. He also served as an Executive Director of Oxfam Hong Kong and a member of the Board of Directors of Oxfam International. Mr Chong is active in promoting civil society in Hong Kong. He is the President of the Hong Kong Blind Union. He has also been a member of the Education and Publicity Subcommittee of the Council for Sustainable Development, which is an advisory committee to the Hong Kong SAR Government on sustainability issues.
Mr. Kevin Li, Researcher, CarbonCare InnoLab

Kevin Li has more than 20 years’ experiences working with development and environmental non-governmental organisations covering the issues of water, land, climate change and poverty reduction. He also experiences in taking different roles, ranging from research, grant-making, online communications to working with partner organisations on development projects in Asia region.
Mr Zhao Ang, Co-Director & Co-founder, Rock Environment and Energy Institute (REEI)

Zhao has worked on climate change and energy transition policy for more than 15 years. He has published in China Environment Series, Environmentally-Aware Business Models and Technologies, International Journal of Applied Logistics, the Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, Environmental Resource and Energy Review and others. Mr Zhao holds a B.A. in Chinese from Peking University and a M.Sc. in Environmental Policy from London School of Economics and Political Science. He likes reading, podcasts and jogging.
Dr Chao Chia-wei, Chair, Taiwan Environment & Planning Association

Chia-Wei Chao is the Adjunct Assistant Professor of The International Degree Program in Climate Change and Sustainable Development, National Taiwan University and also the Chair of Taiwan Environment and Planning Association. He received his PhD degree in Graduate Institute of Environmental Engineering from the National Taiwan University in 2013. His research focus are sustainability transition and industrial ecology. Dr Chao has been actively involved in the climate and energy policy since 2007, to provide evidence-based policy suggestion for environmental NGOs. Taiwan Environment and Planning Association is a newly found environmental NGO, the main task is to establish a transdisciplinary platform to maximize the synergies between ecosystem service and renewable energy development.
Ms Mika Ohbayashi, Director, Renewable Energy Institute (REI)

Mika Ohbayashi is Director at Renewable Energy Institute* since its foundation in August 2011. Before joining the Institute, she worked in Abu Dhabi for the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) as Policy and Project Regional Manager for Asia Oceania. She is one of two founders of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP) and served as Deputy Director for 8 years following its establishment in 2000. She also worked as Advisor for Climate Change Projects and Policies for UKFCO at the British Embassy to Japan. She started her career in the energy field by joining Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center in 1992. In 2017, She was awarded the ISES Global Leadership Award in Advancing Solar Energy Policy- in honour of Hermann Scheer by the International Solar Energy Society. *The Institute’s English name was “Japan Renewable Energy Foundation (JREF)” from 2011 - 2016.
Dr Daphne Mah, Director, Asian Energy Studies Center, HKBU

Dr Daphne Mah is Director of Asian Energy Studies Centre, and Associate Professor at Department of Geography at Hong Kong Baptist University. She obtained her MSc in Environmental Management from the University of Nottingham in the UK, and completed her PhD study at the University of Hong Kong. Her research focuses on social aspects of smart energy transitions, specializing in interdisciplinary research that cuts across the fields of energy technologies (smart grids, solar power, wind energy, nuclear power, and building energy efficiency), energy governance, and sustainability policy studies, with a geographical focus on East Asia covering empirical cases in China, South Korea, and Japan. She is a co-founding editor of Journal of Asian Energy Studies, and the founding convener of the Hong Kong Solar Partnership.
Ms Gahee Han, Researcher, Solutions for Our Climate, South Korea

Gahee is a researcher at Solutions for Our Climate working on power market & grid program. Her recent project involves a resource planning analysis for South Korea’s power system. Previous to SFOC, she worked on Climate Technology Centre & Network projects at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and conducted greenhouse gas reduction research in a lab environment. She received her BSc in environmental engineering from Ewha Womans University.
Ms. Seukyoung Lee, Researcher, Solutions for Our Climate, South Korea

Seukyoung is a researcher in SFOC’s coal power program and Korea Beyond Coal campaign’s international network contact person. Her recent work includes projects on domestic and international coal phase out policies, energy transition and employment impacts, and health impacts of fossil fuel generation. She holds a B.A. in Sociology from Vanderbilt University and a Master of City Planning from Seoul National University Graduate School of Environmental Studies.
Professor Jusen Asuka, Center for Northeast Asian Studies, Tohoku University

Dr Jusen ASUKA is the Professor, Center for Northeast Asian Studies, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan. He had also worked for the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) in Hayama, Japan as the director of the climate change group from April 2010 to March 2013. He holds a Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Engineering, University of Tokyo, a MBA from the INSEAD, and a M.S. from the Graduate School of Agriculture, University of Tokyo. His primary areas of interest are about energy policy and environmental policy (e.g. climate policy, air pollution policy) and international environmental/energy cooperation. He is regularly involved in expert networks as well as policy making on energy/climate policy issues of Japan. His recent, specific interests are to promote the green recovery and energy transition which Japan is lagging behind other countries. Climate justice is his favorite topic as well. He is a football fan and still plays regularly.
Dr Furuya Shota, Researcher, Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, Japan

Dr Shota Furuya is a researcher at Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP) based in Tokyo. He received PhD in community energy planning at Aalborg University in Denmark. He has worked on community based renewable energy development in Japan. He focuses on the process in which different local stakeholders share a sustainable and creative future vision. His main research field is social acceptance of renewable energy and he facilitates stakeholders' understanding and collaboration for sustainability. He has been co-chair of the International Renewable Energy Agency Coalition for Action Community Energy Working Group since 2018.
Ms Hwang Shute, Chair, Green Advocates Energy Co-operative, Taiwan

Shute is the Supervisor of Homemakers Union Consumers Co-operative
and Chairman of Green Advocates Energy Co-operative. She completed her master of Public Health degree in the University of Michigan and joined Homemakers United Foundation 29 years ago. Since then, she has begun engaging in NGO starting from being a volunteer, and has become an entrepreneur of co-operative start-up. Through engaging in environmental movements, she started learning more about the subjects of organic farming, fair trade, energy resources and aging.
Dr Laurence L Delina, Division of Environment and Sustainability, HKUST

Laurence L Delina is an Assistant Professor at the Division of Environment and Sustainability at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. His research interests are on sustainable development with a focus on rapid mitigation of climate change and accelerating sustainable and just energy transitions. He is the sole author of more than thirty journal articles on these topics and four books on climate action and energy transition. He recently co-edited a volume on climate change governance in Southeast Asia and consulted for the United Nations, Oxfam, and Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung on energy issues in the region and in wider Asia-Pacific. Laurence was a Balik (Returning) Scientist at the Philippines Department of Science and Technology, a Rachel Carson Fellow, and a Visiting Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School. He received his PhD from the University of New South Wales (Sydney).
Ms Anjali Viswamohanan, Senior Policy Manager, Asian Investor Group on Climate Change

Anjali is leads on policy engagement for the Asia Investor Group on Climate Change (AIGCC). She has over 7 years of experience working on the energy-related aspects of climate action, primarily in Asia. Prior to AIGCC, she worked with two leading climate think-tanks on developing policy and research on the financial aspects of the energy transition. She is a lawyer by training and has also worked with some of the top law firms in India on facilitating investments into the energy and infrastructure sectors in India.

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