Low-carbon energy is imperative for sustainable, resilient development
MYANMAR is at a critical juncture. The energy choices it makes will have significant and long-term environmental, economic, social and political consequences.
Measurements taken in 2013 reveal a level of atmospheric CO2 of 400ppm. This level has not been reached for 400,000 years, and the rate of increase is faster than in hundreds of thousands of years. With the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, there is agreement on the imperative need for low-carbon and clean energy as well as the more efficient use of natural resources.
The 2015 Draft Myanmar National Electrification Project states, “Electricity consumption is growing fast in Myanmar. The peak load demand reached 2100MW in 2014, growing on average 14pc a year in the past five years. Electricity shortages and supply disruptions remain prevalent.”
Oil, gas and coal will be major sources of energy for the next 30 years. The challenge is to move toward lower carbon emissions while encouraging renewable and clean energy. Providing business opportunities and enabling privatesector involvement will bring in investment, harness entrepreneurial expertise and accelerate the closing of the energy gap.
Many benefits accrue, including improving human health and well-being. Air pollution is a major environmental health problem, linked to about 6.5 million premature deaths each year.
The International Energy Agency’s 2016 Special Report on investment concluded that by 2030, US$48 trillion in investment will be needed to meet the world’s growing demand for energy. Annual investment in renewable energy has quadrupled since 2000.
According to the report Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investments, investments in renewable energy in 2015 totalled $286 billion and, since 2004, $2.3 trillion. Wind, solar, biomass and other methods contributed about 9.1pc of electricity generation in 2014, compared to 8.5pc in 2013.
More efficient use of natural resources and decreasing emissions will reduce the need for pollution control and clean-up costs. Evidence shows that cleaner indoor and outdoor environments increase wellbeing, productivity and competitiveness.
Robust policies to promote lowcarbon clean energy will catalyse research and innovation. These include increasing energy efficiency, improving light and energy capture, harvesting photosynthesis, capturing wind energy more efficiently, and algal culture farming.
The first industrial revolution was powered by coal. The next will most likely be driven by clean energy captured from biochemical processes.
Investing 1pc of GDP in R&D is a target set by many countries: South Korea (3.7pc), Japan (3.4pc), Australia (2.4pc), Singapore (2.4pc) and China (1.7pc) are among the world’s top investors in R&D.
Two-thirds of Myanmar’s population live in rural areas and most work in agriculture. Renewable energy is well suited to rural areas. Solar, wind, geothermal, bio energy and mini-hydropower generation provide equitable availability, enhance energy security, promote distributive energy, reduce transmission losses, strengthen resiliency to power outages and speed up recovery.
The availability of renewable energy to rural households increases learning opportunities and longdistance education, improves health, expands connectivity and promotes “smart” villages.
Myanmar is not encumbered with past development infrastructure that is polluting and unsustainable. There is a chance for Myanmar to be at the forefront of renewable energy development and to become a leader in clean energy.
Dr Nay Htun founded Green Economy Green Growth Myanmar Association. He is associated with leading universities in the US, UK and Asia and held the rank of UN assistant secretary general. The views expressed are personal and do not reflect the policies of the organisations he is associated with.