Power lines in Preah Sihanouk province in October. Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post

Leave no one behind: a call for ASEAN's energy transition to be just

The original oped was published by the Phnom Penh Post on 9 November 2022

As Cambodia welcomes ASEAN Heads of State to Phnom Penh for the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits, we can expect the energy hungry lights will be blazing and the air conditioners humming across the capital. This meeting takes place at a critical time globally with an unprecedented energy crisis and stalled progress on decarbonizing energy with UNEP predicting a 2.8°C temperature rise by the end of the century-significantly higher that the Paris Agreement goal 1.5°C -2°C (UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2022).

Yet ASEAN has the technology, human capital, and natural resources to make a world leading energy transition, and during this summit, we hope member states will build on progress already made and further determine how to meet the energy transition challenges. With its principle of cooperation and mutual benefit, ASEAN could become a global leader by promoting a just energy transition that does not compound existing inequalities and leaves no one behind.

Based on regional consultation with partners who are CSOs and experts from across Southeast Asia, Oxfam believes ASEAN member states have an opportunity to ‘’super-charge’’ an energy transition that provides energy security and is inclusive and just. We recognize the significant challenges with high population growth, some of the world’s most dynamic growing economies and fastest energy demand and widening inequalities between people and between states. Within ASEAN 29 million people still lack access to electricity and 219 million cook with solid biofuels

HE Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia and Chair of the current ASEAN summit indicated the urgency of the need for an energy transition that includes ‘promoting participation, strengthening cooperation and increasing attention to energy transition’ and went on to note this includes “… policies, laws and regulations on clean energy, environmental protection and energy resource management…” The 7th ASEAN Energy Outlook (AEO7) identifies potential pathways for achieving the long-term energy security and energy transition agenda including social impact.

Oxfam knows that an absence or lack of stable power increases communities’ socio-economic vulnerabilities and this is compounded for remote, ethnic communities, women and those living with disabilities. Too often we have seen fossil fuel and hydro energy projects increase generational poverty with those who benefit the least from the projects, paying the most through resettlement, loss of access to environmental commons, being subject to air and water pollution- and still have no access to the energy. Communities affected by the energy transition have a right to a say in decisions that affect them and the injustices and concerns of those affected need to be recognized and addressed through a fair distribution of the responsibilities, costs and benefits including compensation for those affected negatively.

We envision a just energy transition as socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable by balancing the costs and benefits of energy sector development without compromising the environmental and social impacts now and for future generations. This means including the ‘’US’’ in just and ensuring equitable distribution of costs and benefits between members states and between communities-not only between the global North and South - as frequently referred to in climate debates.

ASEAN could make a commitment now to ensure the energy transition is human-centered and equitable and does not increase the number of people left behind and excluded from the benefits of renewable energy. Oxfam urges ASEAN to implement its gender responsive renewable energy policies (ASEAN RE-Gender Roadmap) that will capitalize on the opportunity of increased funding for energy projects and ensure that gender and women’s concerns are central to the design and implementation of renewable energy.

By building on a mixed renewable energy portfolio and economies that engage a range of stakeholders including government, the private sector, communities, NGOs, and development partners, ASEAN could move beyond the monetary balance sheet to consider social and community impact alongside energy need. This would include decentralizing energy systems and providing access through off -grid community owned systems (ASEAN’s Community Renewal Energy: CORE), building community resilience and providing communities with access to innovations and options to do business differently with more energy efficiency.

Responding to the challenges of a global economic crisis and climate change whilst ensuring equitable energy transition where no one is left behind is a challenge. Advancing a Just Energy Transition means not only a shift in technology and infrastructure choices but also a re-centering of energy as the basis for human prosperity not just economic growth. We hope and trust that ASEAN leaders will openly embrace this challenge and engage its willing peoples to work for clean and secure energy.