Most people in Asean want to phase out coal consumption: Survey

The support for eliminating coal plants was weaker in Myanmar, Brunei and Indonesia. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - The majority of people in Asean want their countries to phase out coal consumption either immediately or by 2030, while more than 60 per cent want their countries to stop building new coal plants immediately, a survey report on public attitudes released on Thursday showed.

The annual South-east Asia Climate Outlook Survey, conducted by the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, also found that the support for eliminating coal plants was weaker in Myanmar, Brunei and Indonesia.

Ms Sharon Seah, a senior fellow and coordinator of the Climate Change in South-east Asia Programme at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, noted that this may be for economic reasons, particularly in Myanmar and Indonesia, with the former having to deal with the coup and the resultant humanitarian crisis.

According to another 2022 report, the South-east Asia Energy Outlook, power generation in the region has almost tripled in the past two decades to keep pace with economic growth, with the largest increase coming from coal-fired power plants.

Coal, in particular, is considered the dirtiest form of fossil fuel. Its combustion not only releases heat-trapping gases into the air, but also contributes to pollution, which can impact the health of people living near the plants.

Yet, it has been the energy source of choice for many developing nations because it is considered cheap.

In recent years, only about 40 per cent of the region's energy investment has gone into renewables. This needs to increase in order to help keep temperature rise to below 2 deg C, according to the International Energy Agency.

Ms Seah noted that the resolve to cut reliance on coal as soon as possible has declined slightly from last year - with a possible reason being the rising energy prices from the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The climate survey, which was conducted both online and in person between June 8 and July 12, covered topics ranging from the perceptions of climate policies and actions to perceptions of the region's energy transitions. It drew a total of 1,386 responses from citizens in all 10 Asean countries.

To help the region decarbonise and move towards clean energy, the survey found that solar, hydropower and wind energy were viewed as the top renewable energy sources in most countries.

In Singapore, 42.5 per cent of respondents supported the use of solar energy, followed by 15.2 per cent for green hydrogen, 10.7 per cent for nuclear energy and 10.4 per cent for biofuels.

Among all the countries, however, nuclear energy received the highest support from Singaporean respondents.

Permanent Secretary for Sustainability and the Environment Stanley Loh, who spoke at the report's virtual launch, noted that the United Nation's top climate science body - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - highlighted that every region in the world is projected to experience stronger and longer heatwaves, unprecedented droughts and floods, and accelerating sea-level rise and storm surges due to climate change - with South-east Asia being among the hardest hit regions.

He stressed that climate change requires both national action and a global response, as well as partnership among Asean countries.

According to the survey results, close to one-third of the respondents identified extreme weather events as the main threat to their country's food supply.

Mr Choi Shing Kwok, director and chief executive of ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, said: "Building climate resilience needs to become a crucial component of transforming regional agricultural production, which many South-east Asians agree is a top priority."

Regarding respondents' perception of international climate cooperation, the survey found that 40.8 per cent of them felt that their countries cause climate change and should contribute to global climate efforts in decarbonisation.

Only 23.2 per cent - especially Cambodia and Laos respondents - felt that their country was not responsible for climate change but should still play an active role in the global green transition.

Among the Asean countries, more than half of the respondents believe that Singapore has the potential to be the region's climate leader.

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