Southern Asia urged to wind down coal to keep warming in check

"Plans for major new coal deployment in these regions alone could put the Paris Agreement objectives out of reach", researchers warn

By Michael Taylor

KUALA LUMPUR, June 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Countries in South and Southeast Asia must end their reliance on coal power plants and switch to clean energy in order to meet pledges to curb climate change and tackle air pollution, researchers said on Thursday.

A study from Perth-based think tank Climate Analytics warned that failure to do so threatened a global goal to limit warming.

"Plans for major new coal deployment in these regions alone could put the Paris Agreement objectives out of reach ... given that countries in South and Southeast Asia account for half of the world's planned coal power expansion," report author Paola Yanguas Parra said in a statement.

The 2015 Paris accord set a goal to limit average global temperature rise to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) above pre-industrial times, and to "pursue efforts" for 1.5C.

The study said investing in renewables, like solar and wind, would mitigate the effects of climate change such as droughts and crop failure, boost economic growth, improve access to electricity, clean up air and bolster water supplies.

Asia-Pacific, home to two-thirds of the world's people, is experiencing rising urbanisation, population and economic growth, leaving nations scrambling to provide enough electric power while keeping promises to cut heat-trapping emissions.

With an abundance of locally produced cheap coal, the region is bucking the global trend towards finding cleaner alternatives to burning fossil fuels which emits greenhouse gases.

Bill Hare, Climate Analytics' chief executive officer, warned southern Asia was heading towards huge growth in its emissions.

"(But it) has a massive amount of potential renewable energy - enough to supply its electricity needs many times over," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The study funded by the Global Environment Facility covered eight South Asian nations, the 10 countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, East Timor and Papua New Guinea.

It analysed the benefits of investing more in renewable energy and electric vehicles, including less air pollution, lower water demand and economic gains from reduced oil imports, Hare said.

Local-level clean energy systems - like solar water pumps in India - were also helping bring electricity to people faster than large-scale coal power plants, he said.

Lawmakers should reform policy and regulation to foster decentralised renewable power production, alongside incentives to ditch fossil fuels, he added.

In addition, limiting warming to 1.5C would greatly reduce the risk of drought and water stress in southern Asia, helping achieve global goals to end hunger and provide clean water and sanitation, said Fahad Saeed, a scientist at Climate Analytics.

It would also ease the threat of flooding for large numbers living in coastal regions and alleviate extreme heat that would otherwise harm health and labour productivity, particularly in densely populated cities in South Asia, he said. 

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation News

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