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What the war in Ukraine means for Asia’s climate goals

New Delhi, India – The lines in front of the petrol pumps in Sri Lanka have dwindled, but the anxiety hasn’t gone away.

Asanka Sampath, a 43-year-old factory worker, is always on the lookout. He checks his cell phone for messages, walks past pumps and browses social media to see if fuel has arrived. Delays can mean being stuck for days.

“I’m really sick of this,” he said.

His frustration mirrors the frustration of the island nation’s 22 million residents, who are facing the worst economic crisis in history due to high debt, lost tourism income due to the pandemic and soaring costs. . The resulting political turmoil culminated in the formation of a new government, but the recovery was complicated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the consequent turmoil in global energy markets.

Europe’s need for gas means they are competing with Asian countries, driving up fossil fuel prices and, as a result, Tim Buck, director of think tank Climate Energy Finance. As Lee said, “Hyperinflation…and I’m using it. An understatement.”

Most Asian countries prioritize energy security, sometimes even above climate goals. For rich countries like South Korea and Japan, this means a foray into nuclear energy.because of the enormous energy demand China And India, in the short term, means relying on dirty coal power. But for developing countries that are already under financial pressure, the war is having a disproportionate impact, said Kanika Chawla of the United Nations Sustainable Energy Division.

How Asian countries choose to move forward will have cascading consequences. Either we double down on clean energy, or we decide not to phase out fossil fuels any time soon.

“We are at a really critical crossroads,” Chawla said.

Sri Lanka: ‘Slow Grind’

Sri Lanka is an extreme example of the plight facing poor countries. Massive debt has made it impossible to buy energy on credit, forcing it to distribute fuel to key sectors where shortages are expected in the coming year.

Sri Lanka has set a goal of obtaining 70% of its total energy from renewable energy by 2030 and aims to balance the amount of greenhouse gases it emits with the amount it emits from the atmosphere by 2050. increase.

The twin needs of securing energy while reducing costs mean that “there is no alternative” but to wean ourselves from fossil fuels, says Aruna Kulatunga, author of the government report on Sri Lanka’s clean energy goals. said. But others, such as Murtaza Jafferjee, director of the think tank Advocata Institute, said these goals were “more ambitious than realistic” because the current grid cannot handle renewable energy. I’m here.

“It will grind slowly,” said Jafferjee.

Unlike fossil fuels, energy from wind and solar can fluctuate and stress grids, so grids running on renewables need to be more agile.

The economic crisis has reduced energy demand in Sri Lanka. So while power outages are still ongoing, the country’s existing sources of energy – coal- and oil-fired power plants, hydropower and some solar power – are coping.

China, India: domestic energy

How these two countries meet this demand will have global ripple effects.

And the answer, at least in the short term, appears to be our reliance on dirty coal power, a major source of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions.

China, currently the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, needs to cut emissions significantly as it aims to reach net zero emissions by 2060.

But after the war, China not only imported more fossil fuels from Russia, but also increased its own coal production. The war, combined with a severe drought and a domestic energy crisis, means the country is prioritizing keeping the lights on rather than cutting polluting fuel sources.

India aims to reach net zero 10 years later than China and, despite having very low emissions in the past, is currently third on the list of global emissions. No country will see energy demand grow as fast as India in the next few years, with an estimated $223 billion needed to meet its 2030 clean energy goals. Like China, India has increased coal production to reduce its reliance on expensive imports and is still in Russia’s oil market despite calls for sanctions.

But the magnitude of future demand also means that neither country has any choice but to increase clean energy.

China is leading the way in renewable energy and moving away from reliance on fossil fuels, said Buckley, who tracks the country’s energy policy.

“It could be because they are paranoid about climate change or want complete control over the industry of the future,” said Buckley. “In the end, the reason doesn’t really matter.”

India is also investing heavily in renewable energy, pledging to produce 50% of its electricity from clean sources by 2030.

“This invasion has caused India to reconsider its energy security concerns,” said Swati D’Souza of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

Christoph Bertram of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said increased domestic production does not mean that both countries are burning more coal, but instead replacing expensive imported coal with cheap domestic energy. Yes. What was “important” for global climate goals was where future investments would be directed.

“Flipping investment in coal means investing less in renewable energy,” he said.

Japan, South Korea: nuclear options

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Japan and South Korea, two of Asia’s most advanced countries, are pushing ahead with nuclear energy.

Sanctions on Russian coal and gas imports have led Japan to seek alternative energy sources, despite anti-nuclear sentiment dating back to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. An earlier-than-expected summer has caused power shortages, and the government has announced plans to accelerate regulatory safety checks to bring more reactors into operation.

Japan aims to keep nuclear energy to less than a quarter of its energy mix, a goal that is seen as overly optimistic, but recent pressures have shown that nuclear energy is becoming more prominent in the country. It shows that it can play a role.

Neighboring South Korea, which gets gas from countries such as Qatar and Australia and oil from the Middle East, has seen no short-term impact on its energy supply. But European efforts to secure energy from the same sources could have an indirect hit, pushing up prices.

Like Japan, South Korea’s new government is pushing nuclear power and has signaled its reluctance to significantly reduce the country’s dependence on coal and gas as it wants to boost its economy.

“If this war continues, we will obviously face the problem of what to do with the rising costs,” said Ahn Jae-hoon of the Korea Federation of Environmental Movements.

Indonesia: Damage Control

The war and associated gas price hikes have forced Indonesia to cut ballooning subsidies aimed at keeping fuel prices and some electricity bills down.

But this is a very “rushed reform” and does not address the challenges of pulling the world’s largest coal exporter away from fossil fuels and meeting its 2060 net-zero target, Anissa said. R. Suharsono, International Institute for Sustainable Development.

“We’re getting back to just fighting fires,” she said.

According to government data, coal exports will increase nearly 1.5-fold from April to June compared to 2021 in response to European demand, with Indonesia already producing more than 80% of last year’s total coal production. We are producing.

According to the International Energy Agency, clean energy investments will need to nearly triple by 2030 to reach net zero by 2060, but Suharsono said how these targets will be met. He said it was not clear whether

“Right now, we don’t have comprehensive regulations or a clear roadmap,” she said.

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Bharata Malawarachi, Colombo, Sri Lanka; Edna Tarrigan, Jakarta; Mari Yamaguchi, Tokyo; Tonghyun Kim and Hyungjin Kim, Seoul, South Korea contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiatives here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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