In the recent ASEAN Summit, member states agreed to a pact that calls for alternatives to fossil fuel:

CEBU, Philippines: Leaders from 16 Asian nations signed an energy security accord Monday that they said would reduce the region’s dependence on fossil fuels and promote the use of alternative energy sources.

Briefly mentioned was the reduction of carbon emission:

The Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security, announced Monday, set a wide range of goals, including a promise to “mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through effective policies and measures.”

Those alternatives seem to mainly include biofuel and nuclear energy. Unfortunately, the pact, much like other ASEAN-initiated treaties, is practically unbinding:

The same scepticism holds good for other agreements reached at the latest summit: one to improve the rights of the millions who move between ASEAN countries seeking work; another to improve co-operation against terrorism; and a third, signed with other East Asian powers, to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and promote renewable energy supplies.

Read the fine print and you will find few significant commitments, let alone concrete targets. ASEAN leaders like the rhetoric of union but not the obligations of it.

The new energy pact is of course a step into the right direction, just like the u-turn made by Bush weeks after the ASEAN Summit. It signals the growing realization in Southeast Asia that we need to do something with our dependency on fossil fuel. Regardless whether climate change is part of the realization, the reduction in carbon emissions which is part of the target is definitely a welcoming target.

Even before the energy pact was signed in Cebu, the Phillipines, member states Malaysia and Indonesia were gearing for biofuel. Almost outrageous plans on both sides of the Malay Archipelago were buzzing. One of them included a mega palm oil plantation on Indonesian Borneo. The plan has since been defeated after protests from environmentalists:

WWF successfully defeated a proposal for the world’s largest oil palm plantation, which threatened to destroy the last remaining intact forests of Borneo.

In Malaysia, a compulsory mixed of biofuel into civilian ground vehicle-worthy gasoline will be enforced in the near future:

Malaysia has announced plans to switch from using diesel oil to a part bio-fuel alternative.

Commodities Minister Peter Chin said laws were being drafted to make the use of such fuel compulsory by 2008.

Negotiations have begun with petroleum companies, to persuade them to produce fuel using both mineral and vegetable oils, the government has revealed.

The government favours fuel from 19 parts diesel to one part palm oil, and says engines do not need modification.

Similar measure is being implemented in the Philippines:

San Fernando City, La Union (15 January) — With the signing of the Biofuels Act into law by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, will pave the way for the Philippines to become self-reliant on energy.

According to the Act, the law will promote the use of alternative, renewable energies such as compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, hydrogen, electricity, and any liquid at least 85% of the volume of which consists of methanol, ethanol, or methyl ester such as coco-biodiesel.

Apart from biofuel, Indonesia is planning to construct four new nuclear power plants:

The Indonesian government has proposed building four nuclear plants at the foot of a 1,600-metre dormant volcano in central Java as part of a long-term plan to meet its energy needs.

The four reactors will cover the size of about 600 football fields near the farming village of Balong, to be built in stages over 10 years.

While the government is enthusiastic about commissioning the first plant by 2015, many are concerned about the proposed site in the shadows of Mount Muria, which has been dormant for 3,000 years.

Malaysia is also mulling the idea of nuclear power plant though nothing definite has been brought to the table yet. Instead, for better or for worse, hydro power is seen as a major source of electricity for years to come.

While the two alternatives diversify the countries’ — as well as ASEAN’s if the pact is adhered at all — energy sources, there are issues related to them.

The expansion of palm oil will eventually bring about deforestation. While biofuel is carbon-neutral, deforestation is not. In fact, Brazil is one of world’s major emitters of carbon due simply to the current massive deforestation of the Amazon. In combat climate change, the expansion of palm oil plantation for the purpose of biofuel production provides a dilemma for policymakers, if not downright paradox.

In contrast to all other energy sources, nuclear produces almost no carbon emission and does not involve deforestation the way biofuel or even hydroelectric dam requires. It is perhaps the ultimate answer to the problem of climate change. Of course, radioactive waste is a major issue that blunts environmental appeal of nuclear power.

While I prefer the pact to stress more on green renewables energy such as wind and solar, the greatest failing is not the exclusion of green renewable energy. The greatest disappointment really is the non-binding nature of the agreement.

What is the point of signing a non-binding agreement?

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply