Low carbon electricity generation, carbon pricing could reduce emissions in Asean: MIT report

Lower-carbon options include renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, or switching from coal to natural gas.
Lower-carbon options include renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, or switching from coal to natural gas.PHOTO: ST FILE

KATOWICE, Poland - The ongoing United Nations (UN) climate change talks in Poland have emphasised the need for the world to drastically reduce its emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, with many nations arguing that both developing and developed countries should bear the responsibility of doing so.

But how can rapidly developing nations, such as those in South-east Asia, strike a balance between mitigating climate change and providing ample electricity to its people and growing economies?

A report by five Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers released on Monday (Dec 10) during COP24 suggests two possible solutions:one is for countries to opt for lower-carbon electricity generation and the other is to foster more efficient use of energy by putting a price on carbon emissions, such as through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade scheme.

COP 24 is the informal name for the UN climate change meeting currently being held in the Polish city of Katowice.

Lower-carbon options include renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, or switching from coal to natural gas. Natural gas is considered the cleanest form of fossil fuel, though its combustion still releases heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Lead author of the report Sergey Paltsev, a senior research scientist at the MIT Energy Initiative, said: "Producing far less carbon emissions than coal, natural gas could also serve as a backup from intermittent renewables, thereby boosting their penetration in the market."

Natural gas could be a buffer against the shortcomings of renewable energy sources, which are their intermittency and lack of economically feasible storage solutions, he said at a press conference.

The report, entitled Pathways to Paris: Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean), analysed gaps between the climate targets and current emission levels of the regional bloc, highlighted key challenges to complying with those targets, and recommended policy and technology solutions to overcome them.

Using computer models, the study found that Asean was still at least 400 megatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions short of its 2030 emissions target, and must reduce emissions by 11 per cent if it were to achieve this.According to the US Environmental Protection Agency's greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator, this amount is equivalent to taking 85.6 million passenger vehicles off the roads for a year.

Said Dr Paltsev: "The main challenge that Asean countries face in achieving those goals is to lower emissions while expanding power generation to meet the growing energy demand - nearly a doubling of total primary energy consumption from 2015 to 2030 - in their rapidly developing economies."

Of the two recommended strategies, Dr Paltsev conceded carbon pricing policies often face substantial political resistance.

That is why the report calls for an initial focus on technology-specific policies, such as increasing the portion of the energy mix from renewable sources, and develop markets in clean technology. Improving energy efficiency could also be another way to reduce emissions, he added during the press conference.

Dr Paltsev acknowledged that there was plenty of differences among the member states of Asean, citing Singapore as an example of a nation that had already reaped the low hanging fruits of energy efficiency.

The report also referred to Singapore's upcoming carbon tax, which will be imposed on large emitters in the Republic from 2019, saying it could "set a useful near-term example for neighbouring Asean countries to study." Singapore is the first country in South-east Asia to impose a carbon pricing scheme.

The Asean report is one of two analysing emission targets and gaps released by MIT during COP24, with the other looking at the climate targets of Latin American countries.

Added Dr Paltsev: "These regions have not received as much attention as the largest emitting countries by most gap analysis studies, which tend to focus on the globe as a whole."

Both reports were funded by General Electric, with researchers working with representatives of the Asean Centre for Energy and selected Latin American countries.