By Dr. Sreemati Ganguli
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to attend the 14th ASEAN-India Summit in Vientiane (Laos) in September 2016 touched upon a wide array of issues including trade, physical and digital connectivity and counter-terrorism. As 2017 will mark 25-years of bilateral Dialogue Partnership and 5-years of Strategic Partnership between India and the ASEAN, this article attempts to focus on a less publicised but not a less important area of the new ‘Act East’ Policy – green energy cooperation between India and the ASEAN to ensure energy security as well as to mitigate adverse impacts of climate change in the inter-regional scenario. The early signs of this initiative were visible in 2007 with the proclamation of the ASEAN-India Green Fund under the ASEAN-India Network for Climate Change, and it was formally established in 2010.
In the present scenario, India-ASEAN green energy cooperation gains significance in the context of some recent events in the global, regional and national energy scenario.
The UN-sponsored Paris Climate Change Pact of 2015, the first ever universal legally-binding global deal, set the target of keeping the rise of global temperature below 2 degree Celsius, if possible to limit it to 1.5 degree, above the pre-industrial level to reduce the risks and impact of climate change. The Paris Summit asked for all concerned parties to formulate and communicate long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies in view of their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. The October 2016 Kigali Amendment to the 1989 Montreal Protocol also put differentiated cuts on the emission of hydro-fluorocarbons to reduce global warming level by half a degree Celsius. It is significant to note that India not only ratified the Paris Climate Pact, thereby paving the way of its entering into force in November 2016, but it took a leading and principled stance during the negotiations of both these global treaties to put forward the rights of developing countries to provide economic security to its population, without jeopardizing the global climate change goals and to seek environmental justice for Mother Earth.
Earlier, in September 2014, a new theme for the ASEAN Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (APAEC) was endorsed during the 32nd ASEAN Ministers on Energy Meeting. The ministerial meeting proposed ‘Enhancing Energy Connectivity and Market Integration in ASEAN to achieve Energy Security, Accessibility, Affordability and Sustainability for All’. Besides the implementation of ASEAN Power Grid and the Trans-ASEAN Pipeline, the new areas of energy cooperation as identified by the APAEC 2016-2025 are related to research and development of clean coal and civilian nuclear energy technology and regulation, reduction of energy intensity by 20 per cent in 2020, and reaching the aspirational target to increase the component of renewable energy to 23 per cent in ASEAN energy mix by 2025.
India’s new energy policy, as proposed in 2014 by the Modi government, also envisaged of achieving 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022 (100 GW of solar, 60 GW of wind, 10 GW of biomass and 5GW of hydro electricity) to change its energy mix with an increased percentage in favour of renewable energy. It is important to note in this vein that when India’s candidature for Nuclear Suppliers’ Group in June 2016 was supported by a large majority of members of the Group it was not only a vindication of India’s impeccable non-proliferation record, unlike some of its neighbours, but also it was an international support for India’s plan to change its energy mix through better access to clean energy, to acquire newest civilian nuclear technology to limit its carbon emission and reduce air pollution from coal-based power plants as well as to propose plutonium trade for its indigenous thorium-based nuclear programme to gain green energy security.
The growing trends towards energy cooperation, in different forms and at various levels, are evidence of different challenges the world is facing today and will face tomorrow like energy poverty, balancing economic development with environmental sustainability, changing the nature of global energy mix with larger share for renewable energy resources, developing innovative technologies, commercially viable carbon capture and storage (CCS) and clean coal technology (CCT), and promoting energy efficiency. India-ASEAN bilateral cooperation in green energy acquires a strategic character in this context.
The bilateral arrangement for energy cooperation, as delineated in the ‘Plan of Action to Implement the ASEAN- India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity (2016-2020)’ includes India’s support for the APAEC 2016-2025; further promotion of ASEAN-India new and renewable energy initiative; increased cooperation to pursue energy security and to minimize environmental impacts through research, capacity-building, development, production and use of renewable and alternative energy sources; promotion of clean energy as well as energy efficient technologies through institutional capacity-building. The other areas include encouragement of private sector engagement in the development and utilization of renewable and alternative energy sources; development and strengthening of institutional linkages between ASEAN and India including the ASEAN Centre for Energy to cooperate on R&D in areas of energy efficiency and conservation, renewable energy, energy security, policy planning and programmes of action; and India’s support for the rural household electrification programmes in ASEAN member states through solar, bio mass, bio gas, micro hydro and off-grid electrification to narrow the developmental gaps in urban-rural settings in these states. The plan further envisages the undertaking of programmes to provide technical and financial assistance and capacity-building for ASEAN states to address environmental management and climate change through the use of the ASEAN-India Green Fund.
Significantly a number of ASEAN countries like Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are a part of the 121-member International Solar Alliance, the grouping of Sunshine Countries over solar energy. This international energy initiative by Prime Minister Modi was inaugurated in Paris, alongside the global Climate Change Summit in 2015 to meet the common goal of increasing utilization of solar energy in meeting energy needs of the member countries in a safe, convenient, affordable, equitable and sustainable manner. This solar initiative puts focus on the common goal for both India and the ASEAN to provide energy access to the poorest section of society in an environment-friendly way. Notably, Prime Minister Modi commented in a recent interview to National Geographic Channel in the Documentary series ‘Years of Living Dangerously’ that India needs international investment and technology to meet the challenges of changing India’s energy mix overwhelmingly in favour of clean energy and reaching out to the last man in the energy value chain – the 300 million Indian people who still have no access to electricity.
For any bilateral relationship to prosper, the factor of versatility is one of the most significant criteria that offer substance in a long-term strategic scenario. Green energy cooperation between India and the ASEAN is such a vector of cooperation with a common agenda to prioritize green energy sources, to enhance ethical and efficient usage of energy, to call for a partial de-hydrocarbonization of national energy systems and to search for innovative clean energy solutions to balance economic development with environmental sustainability.
(The author is Fellow (Honorary), Institute of Foreign Policy Studies, University of Calcutta)