Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Asia energy reform could save $700 billion: UN

Asia energy reform could save $700 billion: UN

Asia energy reform could save $700 billion: UN

But failure to act could cost $9 trillion

Greater use of renewable energy and power conservation could save countries in the Asia-Pacific region $700 billion by 2030, according to a recent United Nations report.

The UN said without reform, energy infrastructure development in the region would cost $9 trillion.

But developing countries have argued in response that savings have not been fully proven and require tradeoffs that will hit poorer countries hardest.

"Sustainable development of the region requires that we devote attention to our energy resources," Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej last month told a summit on the report, which drew delegates from 49 countries, including China, India and South Korea.

"Our region urgently and seriously needs to consider energy management reform."

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is pushing leaders in the region to take cooperative action quickly, while keeping the region's poorest residents in mind.

"This is the right time for us all to sit down," said South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-Hoon. "We are trying to remodel the whole picture of our economies."

With government direction, greater energy efficiency in production and consumption around the world could reduce use by 40 percent by 2050, according ESCAP.

"We have a dilemma, your excellencies, and the dilemma is fossil fuels," said Noeleen Heyzer, executive secretary of ESCAP. "Heavy dependency on fossil fuels is aggravating the Asia-Pacific region's economic vulnerability."

She said rocketing oil prices and the impact of emissions on global warming mean countries urgently need to rethink their energy programs.

Without action, she said, the poor would be increasingly unable to afford energy and oil cartels would have growing power over countries with few resources.

"This is no longer a hobby," Heyzer said. "It's an essential thing to do."

The report proposes joint Asia-Pacific energy infrastructure and standards as well as tax reform to encourage ecologically-friendly energy resources.

Heyzer said countries needed to coordinate energy and development programs to empower the estimated 1.7 billion people in Asia who still primarily use dirty, inefficient fuel.

However, Mirza Azizul Islam, an advisor to Bangladesh's finance ministry, said the report's proposals would hurt less-developed countries in the short run.

"The tradeoffs involved in energy management policies have not been adequately considered," he said. "This can be a major source of social discontent."

Ministers said they hoped  sharing resources and information could help ease the transition for developing countries.

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