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Voices from the 2015 Pacific Energy Summit: Health and the Environment

Media Roundtable


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Health and the Environment (mp3)

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Voices from the 2015 Pacific Energy Summit (PDF)

On May 29, 2015, NBR hosted an on-the-record media roundtable discussion in Beijing, China, as part of the 2015 Pacific Energy Summit. Panelists discussed combating pollution, developing renewables and sustainable energy mixes, and the role of government in protecting health and energy security. Thein Lwin, Myanmar House of Representatives, Yongping Zhai, Asian Development Bank, and Mark Thurber, Stanford University, served as panelists for this session. Select highlights from the event are published below.




AIR POLLUTION



"The estimates from the World Health Organization are that urban air quality and air pollution contribute to somewhere on the order of two million deaths per year in Asia."

—MARK THURBER, Stanford University, USA


"One interesting policy dilemma is that sometimes the policies being pursued for climate reasons may not be very helpful for local air pollution goals or vice versa. So sometimes you get good alignment between climate goals and local air pollution goals and sometimes you don’t."

—MARK THURBER, Stanford University, USA




RENEWABLE ENERGY



"There are three main challenges for building out renewable energy in Asia: challenges of access, affordability, and sustainability."

—YONGPING ZHAI, Asian Development Bank, Philippines


"There is the question of whether the introduction of renewables will make life more expensive. This is a question that we need to address. In the case of the Philippines, we have very expensive power, up to seventeen cents per kilowatt power. But introducing solar energy would take us up to twenty-five cents. That will be an issue. When we promote renewable energy, we must look in terms of the entire energy mix so the overall price would not significantly increase."

—YONGPING ZHAI, Asian Development Bank, Philippines


"Energy is a problem, but also a solution. The solution would be going from dirty energy to clean energy. All of our resources are being put into supporting energy efficiency, renewable energy, and some clean fuel, which still contributes to reducing environmental impact."

—YONGPING ZHAI, Asian Development Bank, Philippines




THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT



"Where government can play the most important role is with clean energy technologies that are risky often because they are new and fairly untested; government should think about ways to lower the risk. It’s interesting that with every new scale technology in this area that I can think of, government originally played a big role. If you look at the first LNG early practices in Indonesia, the risks were underwritten by the Japanese government. For any kind of early-stage, untested kind of technology, government has a role in making it more attractive to companies. For mature technologies, the government must decide what regulatory approaches to take to incentivize use or make them more commercially viable."

—MARK THURBER, Stanford University, USA


"When government is taking action with clean energy technologies, the ADB is there to support them. ADB is there to help governments promote these technologies even though it’s more expensive and unconventional than other forms. ADB’s funding is by definition concessional. And we sometimes step in when our resources will help mitigate the costs."

—YONGPING ZHAI, Asian Development Bank, Philippines


"I think to a greater or lesser degree, probably any future U.S. president would continue to support renewable energy. I have to say that subsidizing renewables has a certain amount of bipartisan support, which is good. I think it’s interesting how the issues will shape up in the U.S., where renewable policies have been inconsistent. You’ve had production tax credits, where you get a certain payment amount for what you make or produce, and investment tax credits, where you can get tax benefits for money spent on solar. These credits have been turned on and off in Congress. So it’s hard to know exactly what the environment will be for renewable energy policy in the coming presidential terms, and as we have seen, that’s not just determined by the president. Congress has a big role in where all that goes. I think the interesting question is how the U.S. or any country should allocate their resources as efficiently as possible. An important thing is to not get too hung up on exactly which technology you are supporting. Renewable energy is a means to an end; it is not the end."

—MARK THURBER, Stanford University, USA




DEVELOPING AFFORDABLE ENERGY MIXES



"The biggest impact on the U.S. energy mix in the last ten years has been the advent of shale gas. Now that there is plentiful gas at low cost in the U.S., just purely on economics alone, gas is much more attractive for new power plants than coal. But at the same time, in parallel, the Obama administration has put in some new environmental rules, one of which is effectively that the CO2 emissions for new power plants have to be no worse than those of a gas plant (this is a simple way of looking at it). This basically means no new coal plants, though you could in theory do coal if you did carbon capture storage, but in practice, the economic way to comply with this rule is through natural gas plants. Right now, that regulation doesn’t have much impact because gas would be what companies would build just for economic reasons. But if something changed in the future—say the natural gas prices got much higher—this regulation is sort of a way of locking in that we are not going to build more coal in the U.S."

—MARK THURBER, Stanford University, USA


”Since 1998, Myanmar has been sending natural gas to Thailand. The amount is up to 1.6 billion cubic feet. Very recently, we also discovered new gas offshore of Bangladesh and Bangalore. And we are supplying natural gas to China again. Myanmar is selling most of the gas discovered offshore to neighboring countries like Thailand and China. But the people in Myanmar only have about a 30% electrification rate, so we would like to use more gas domestically, but sending gas to China and Thailand is under a long-term contract. The government is putting its foot down and trying to write in clauses with new partners about giving priority for domestic use."

—THEIN LWIN, House of Representatives, Myanmar




BALANCING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND THE ENVIRONMENT



"Myanmar uses the three “E”s: economic development, environmental sustainability, and, of course, energy supply security. These three Es are very much interconnected. We are very conscious of how can we promote economic development, but at the same time we are very concerned about environmental awareness and sustainability."

—THEIN LWIN, House of Representatives, Myanmar


"The government has laid out eleven coal-fired power stations, and some local people are going to build coal-fired stations. But local people are protesting very seriously. The government must convince local people of the advantages of coal-fired power stations. If we don’t allow people to construct coal-fired power stations or hydropower stations, how we can get sufficient electricity? This is a question. I think we need to convince the local populace of the advantage of this."

—THEIN LWIN, House of Representatives, Myanmar



More than 200 leaders from government, business, and research and 60 energy journalists gathered in Beijing, China, on May 27–29, 2015, for the 6th annual Pacific Energy Summit. The 2015 Pacific Energy Summit was co-hosted by the National Bureau of Asian Research and the China Energy Research Society. Lead sponsorship was provided by Chevron, and the Asian Development Bank served as a partner for the Summit. Additional sponsors included Accenture and ExxonMobil, as well as collaborating institutions The Center for Energy Governance & Security at Hanyang University and the Korea Energy Economics Institute. Under the theme "Strengthening Markets for Energy and Environmental Security," the forum explored collaborative solutions to the dual challenges of rising energy demand and a changing climate.


Learn more about the 2015 Pacific Energy Summit.



For all audio from the 2015 Pacific Energy Summit, held in Beijing on May 27—29, see "2015 Pacific Energy Summit Media Wrap-Up."