Here are some of my pics from my time in Vietnam.
So far on my travels I have been to Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and I am now in Thailand. I thought it might be a good time to stop and reflect on some of the energy trends in the countries that I have visited, and to give some thought to what I may find in Thailand. All of these countries form part of the ASEAN group – the Association of South Eastern Asian Nations.
The IEA, in their energy outlook report for 2013 for the ASEAN group, put the following graph together. I can tell you that from my experiences in these countries, I’d tend to agree with their findings. The first thing I noticed upon arriving in Bangkok, after spending over two months in Vietnam after two months in the Philippines, was that there is definitely more money in Thailand. Singapore is on such a different scale that it should almost not be included in the graph. I suppose it could be the exception that proves the rule (or trend) in the region.
I am yet to travel through any rural parts of Thailand, but from what I’ve seen in the city, there does seem to be more prolific use of electricity here. I will keep an eye out for any rolling brownouts or load-shedding (of which I saw a LOT in the Philippines and less in Vietnam).
It’s interesting to look at these graphs and stats after travelling in the region for a while. Here’s another one showing how the wealthier countries have pretty much got universal access to electricity, and that those countries that are in the middle region are still fairly reliant on biomass consumption, even if they have access to electricity.
Many of the street food vendors in Vietnam (delicious by the way) were using charcoal under their carts to cook their food. So you see this in action even in the cities.
I have had a look at the info available on the World Bank’s Database, and have pulled out some graphics on some key energy related stats for the region. What they show is a general trend for increasing CO2 emissions, increasing energy consumption and a consistent or increasing reliance on energy imports. Renewables are increasing, slowly, for all countries other than the Philippines, where the noticeable drop in renewables is balanced by a sharp increase in coal consumption).
Vietnam went to COP21 last year with CO2 emission reduction targets of “8% in 2030 by using its national resources, and 25% if receiving more international support.” In support of this target, a Renewable Energy Development Strategy was published in November 2015. This strategy sets out renewable energy targets and associated green house gas emission reduction targets up to 2030, and gives an indication of the intended outlook to 2050.
The targets include the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in various energy activities as compared with business as usual scenario by approx. 5% in 2020; approx. 25% in 2030 and around 45% in 2050. This is clearly their aspirational target, requiring external funding assistance.
After meeting with people in Vietnam, I have been told that this Strategy was published a) in Vietnamese only (the copy that I have is an unofficial translation), and b) without any consultation with those working in the sector. This indicates that it is a document prepared in a bit of a hurry to have something to take with them to COP21. The lack of stakeholder engagement also leads to questions about the suitability of the targets, and whether they are realistic or if there will be real political support in driving the sector forward.
What I have also been told is that external funding agencies, such as the World Bank, have tried their hand at influencing the Vietnamese government towards clean energy. Loans for other projects (such as coal infrastructure) have been issued with conditions attached (this is not unusual; South Africa’s access to World Bank finance for their two new coal facilities, Medupi and Kusile, had renewable energy conditions). What does seem to have happened is that these agencies have made the conditions in Vietnam pretty loose and toothless.
I have heard criticism that funding conditions have called for documentation like this strategy to be developed by the government, but that the requirements are not particularly onerous. So, for instance, if one condition were for the development of a renewable energy strategy, there may be nothing requiring that it be a particularly good strategy. By developing and issuing a strategy document, they would be fulfilling the letter of the law, if not its intention.
It’s good to have targets written down and for government to have commitments in place, but it’s vitally important that these targets are realistic. One of the major successes of South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) development process was the extensive stakeholder engagement that took place. Members from various sectors, industries and agencies were able to submit comment, or present their case in a series of calls for comment and government organised workshops. Through this consultation process the solar PV industry was able to lobby for the inclusion of PV contributing nearly half of the total renewable energy capacity by 2030. There was no PV included beforehand. This engagement has also led the Department of Energy to include models which totally exclude nuclear (in response to concerns about the cost assumptions) and the learning curves and associated pricing assumptions of various renewables technologies were challenged.
Releasing a strategy without consultation, just before going to be heard at an international climate change conference indicates that the document was rushed, and was perhaps developed in order to tick a box. Rather than being a well thought out and realistic indication of the challenges and opportunities present in the local renewable energy sector.
Energy planning and the decisions that result have implications that echo for decades. Targets require considered thought to how they will be financed, who needs to be involved in realising the targets (industry bodies/investors/research institutes), how they need to be involved, what policies and incentive mechanisms need to be developed in parallel, what kind of procurement and contracting strategies will be appropriate and who will develop and implement these (who has this mandate?). Strong planning, with solid buy in by those who will be responsible for the achievement of the dream, needs to happen. Good, resilient infrastructure is not something that happens by accident.
What happens by accident is that governments keep building coal power stations, chewing up natural resources, and indebting themselves to foreign investors with weak sustainability targets. It is my hope that this Strategy is now used as a starting point, and that government uses it as a basis for engaging with industry, utilities, civil societies and others around its suitability.
You can read a bit about what the Strategy’s targets are here.
There has been a lot in every form of news at the moment about the messages coming out of the US relating to Syrian refugees and the freedom of movement of muslim people. I won’t mention his name (it doesn’t need more airing), but you will all know who I’m talking about.
In response to this, a lot of people have been drawing comparisons between the Syrian crisis and the plight of Christians and Jewish people throughout history. An appropriate comparison, and something that should be further explored. Our unconscious biases should naturally be constantly challenged.
Now, while Energy Ramblings is not intended to be a platform for religious discussion (at all!), I wanted to take a moment to draw another comparison, as it relates to resource consumption and thus energy matters. And this is the relentless expansion of consumer based Christian holidays around the world.
Christmas is alive and well in Vietnam. I have seen more snowmen and snowflakes in this tropical country than I have seen cumulatively over the course of my life. There are Christmas trees everywhere and I am yet to go into a coffee shop or restaurant without hearing Christmas carols. (I honestly used to like Last Christmas.) It is relentless. Merciless. And totally out of place in a country where Christians makes up about 8% of the population.
Why is this important to me? Besides being unbelievably irritating, because of this:
Christmas as a holiday is being used to sell EVERYTHING.
I have spoken to a few locals here about what Christmas means, and the consensus seems to be that it is a day that is looked forward to by everyone, because you get to spend it with your friends. Presents are not a big component of the holiday, and you’re not expected to buy people gifts (yet) but there is a definite message coming through that Christmas is mandatory in your business during the season to sell your services, and the streets are packed with cheap, disposable Christmas related junk that will be thrown out two weeks after Christmas is done.
My point is that the western world may express xenophobic sentiments, relating to race or religion, but it should not be forgotten that the impact of western colonisation and religious expansion is seen in many ways around the world; and that this is not necessarily slowing down. While this may not be manifesting in more bums on seats in church, it is lending its hand to thoughtless consumerism and the production of cheaply made goods, with a very short shelf-life; designed for landfill. And a very short road to people here being influenced into adding Christmas presents to the holiday season. With this amount of pressure it’s inevitable.
This, I would argue, is incredibly concerning. And a terrible legacy. It deserves some acknowledgement and introspection from those who are worried about other people’s cultures affecting them.
[edit – I know that the consumer based habits have shifted from the religious intent of Christmas. This does not change my point – that these are holidays perpetuating consumer habits, stemming from western cultures and practices, and are largely based on what began as Christian celebrations – the same kind of trends are seen with Easter and St Valentine’s day]