The causes of energy transformation are essentially the need and consumption of the energy resources in the increasing growing humanity, especially since the industrial era, whether in tangible or intangible form of energy products such as electricity or heat.

Transformed energy was mainly from conventional energy sources such as nuclear energy or fossil fuels (mainly dependent on natural resources such as coal, oil and natural gas), which, with the exception of nuclear power, are forms of energy transformed for billions of years.  Their natural renewal cannot catch up with the speed of their exhaustion. A study conducted by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 2002 predicts that all the available natural resources will be exhausted by 2050, if they continue to be exploited at the current rate. The energy transformation is increasingly growing and the technologies employed in this regard have already started to affect the planet earth deleteriously.

The rapid depletion of natural resources and the various environmental degradations associated with the production and excessive energy consumption first came to the attention of human society in the sixties of twentieth century. Warnings refuted initially as utopian and exaggerated were finally taken seriously together with developing international legal framework in order to protect, manage, understand and restore the different form of the environment whether it is terrestrial, aquatic, marine or natural and cultural or spatial. Accordingly, the means and methods respecting the long-term, new and clean energy have been developed and have become attractive, especially since the oil shock in 1973. Some call them new energy or clean energy. Now there is an agreement on the common name of "renewable energy". 

The theme of renewable energy as a method and energy supply means having a vital interest for the status of the biosphere and the condition of life and survival on earth. According to OECD, renewable energy use inexhaustible sources of natural energy such as solar radiation, wind, water and carbon cycles in the biosphere, internal heat flux of Earth, effect of lunar and solar attraction on the oceans.  These energy sources have renewability as a criterion. It also includes that the life cycle of production and processing facilities do not present risks or disadvantages in the short, long and even longer term, and that they are socially and economically sustainable.

Today, the world is in a crisis. This crisis is both ecological and social. This crisis was named as global warming. This is the phenomenon of climate change and energy poverty that plague the world. The challenges are to determine the sustenance of life on planet earth and understanding the contribution of renewable energy sources. Global warming caused by the constant accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has already begun to disrupt the ecosystems.

In the last decade of the twentieth century, it has been observed that there is an increase on the average temperature of the oceans and the atmosphere on a global scale. An assessment conducted by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 confirmed that human activities are causing greenhouse effect that is to say we observe increasing of the amounts of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) etc. that results in global warming.  A study by Global Chance in 2017 establishes a connection between emissions of greenhouse gases and fossil fuels.  IPCC assessment also estimates the share of greenhouse gas emissions due to the energy sector at 25.9%.

All areas of the environment are affected.  The atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels had started to cause air pollution, accentuating the greenhouse effect and the decline of the ozone layer. The increasing water use and water pollution had started to modify the hydrosphere. Rising atmospheric and sea-surface temperature had started to modify the cryosphere. Our increasing use of land, for agriculture, cities, roads, mining – as well as all the pollution we were creating – had started to modify our biosphere and landscape. International Greenpeace speaks of about 150,000 additional deaths per year among the ecosystems due to the environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity persist. In addition to that, there are risks of long-term pollution and environmental degradation posed by the nuclear power that we can no longer ignore.

The IPCC report entitled “Climate Change” published in 2007 predicts major negative consequences for humanity this century due to approaching climate change, a reduction of potential crop yields in most tropical and subtropical areas,  a decrease of water resources in most tropical and subtropical dry regions,  a decrease in the source of water flow from melting ice and snow, following the disappearance of the ice and the snow, an increase in extreme weather events such as heavy rains, storms and droughts, and an increase in the impact of these phenomena on agriculture, an increase in forest fires during warmer summers,  the extension of areas infested with diseases such as cholera and malaria, an increase of flood risk, both because of rising of the sea level and climate change, a higher energy consumption for air conditioning and reduction of potential crop yields at middle and high latitudes.

These effects will be felt worldwide, but they will be especially keen in South Asia – defined as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Flooding, food shortages, and stagnating economic growth are just some of the devastating impacts South Asia may experience due to advancing climate change, according to IPCC. At the end of March 2014, IPCC released its long-awaited Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, a report that compiles the current scientific literature on climate change. The report’s assessment of observed impacts — the climate change effects we are already seeing — ranks Asia as the biggest victim of natural disasters last year, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the global economic loss ascribed to natural disasters.

South Asia’s vulnerability to these and future disasters is profound, principally for reasons of population and poverty. The majority of South Asian countries are low- or lower-middle income countries that already struggle to support the daily needs of their growing populations. Because poorer households dedicate more of their budgets to food, they are the most sensitive to weather-related shocks that can make daily staples unaffordable.

Low-lying Bangladesh is vulnerable to flooding and cyclones in the Indian Ocean, which scientific literature suggests will grow more intense in coming decades.  Rising sea levels are also likely to threaten rice cultivation. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates a one-meter rise in sea level would inundate 17,000 square kilometres of Bangladesh’s land, over ten percent of its total land mass.

The problems the IPCC has identified will become obvious in South Asian economies sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, the cost of action will only rise if delayed.  To insulate themselves from these potential threats, South Asian nations will have to invest heavily in both mitigation and adaptation. One set of efforts would be to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions through improvements in energy efficiency and promotion of renewable energy. Operating renewable energy sources may bring two-fold benefits for this region. They are less polluter; therefore, renewable energy is one of the most effective tools South Asia has in its fight against climate change. Also, they are conducive to sustainable development because they are sustainable and available in abundance. The evidence is that they are environmentally and technically accessible reserves in the world and large enough to provide about six times more energy than the world currently consumes. Thus, renewable energy could supply the people of this region with energy, including those who currently have no access to energy without the need to make expensive network connections.  Even a significant increase in demand can be satisfied with their enormous potential.

While renewable energy contributes environmental protection, it has a huge potential for regional energy trade – it does help spur economic growth, enhance job creation, boost business activity and fund to poverty eradication. The international trade in energy allows countries to balance this important demand and supply, exploiting their own unique comparative advantage while meeting increasingly diverse energy requirements. Despite substantial potential, South Asia is one of the least connected regions in the world in regard to energy trade, according to Asian Development Bank (ADB) report on Energy Trade in South Asia in 2011.

Though South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world with economic growth forecasted to gradually accelerate from 7.1 percent in 2016 to 7.3 percent in 2017, a World Bank (WB) report said, it is still struggling to meet energy demand. Despite such encouraging figures, the facilities and services available in some South Asian countries are inadequate to address the growing demands of their economy and population, thus increasing the strain on scarce resources and contributing to high poverty figures and a relatively low standard of living. The majority people without a sustainable access to the basic energy services were estimated around 1.2 billion worldwide – 16% of the global population – in 2016, mainly from developing countries, particularly in Africa and South Asia, according to World Energy Outlook (WEO). Energy supply and security are major challenges on the road to sustainable development in the South Asian region. Furthermore, the challenge is likely to get more complex as energy demand is growing to keep pace with an expanding population and economy.

The South Asian countries have huge potential for renewable energy sources. Geographically, South Asian countries are located in a region of different climatic conditions such as tropical, humid etc. which provides easy access to a variety of renewable energy sources. It has been reported that hydropower potential in Nepal, the massive wind power potential in Afghanistan, and solar power potential in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh can help the South Asian region go a long way in fulfilling its energy needs.

This enormous potential is still insufficiently taken into account in this regional energy markets.  Today, according to International Energy Agency (IEA) annual report in 2013, renewable energy represents 13.2% of the total energy consumption in the world and in South Asian countries, according to ADB report on Energy Trade in South Asia in 2011, less than 5%, while other energy sources continue to carve the part Lion.  Bangladesh ranks among the lowest in South Asian region with 2.74 percent of energy production from renewable energy sources, according to ADB’s report in 2011. The report also summarises Bangladesh’s heavily dependence on natural gas with 88.45 percent.

Despite the huge potential and benefits of promoting energy efficiency and increasing the share of renewable energy in the gross energy production, there are obstacles at both the national and regional level, which must be overcome. One of the barriers is low investment in renewable energy because it involves high initial capital costs, and the monetary benefits from such projects take time to materialize. Low priority given to renewable energy in national planning and weak implementation framework, weak environmental regulations, fossil fuel subsidies etc. are among some crucial challenges in national level policy adoption. There is also very limited knowledge and expertise regarding renewable energy technologies. Policies are often not conducive to business and do not incentivize private sector participation. Political challenges include an agreement on the energy authority in the area and deliberating options for energy trade.  The regional security framework is another impediment to the adoption of sensible mitigation and adaptation strategy as distrust between India and Pakistan still exists, and some countries in this region are constantly fighting against terrorism.

While geopolitical and geographic constraints are challenging to overcome, they are not unconquerable. Regional cooperation must address variables such as private sector participation, huge investment cost, affordability, political will, climate change, right of way and inaccessibility. The key here is to expand the existing bilateral framework for energy trade into a multi-lateral one, and work towards energy security and look into low-carbon solutions.  Focal offices should be established at the federal/central level in each country under the auspices of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), as there is a need to effectively coordinate between various agencies of national and sub-national governments and organisations including SAARC Energy Centre (SEC), SAARC Meteorological Research Centre (SMRC) etc. The same office may be declared as a liaison with international development partners, civil society and the private sector. Current and planned policies, programmes and projects may be reviewed to align them with the objectives of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), a global initiative launched by the United Nations (UN) in 2011.

Energy efficiency practices and standards are the most relevant areas in South Asia. By sharing ideas, they may address energy system losses and inefficient consumption at commercial and household levels. Similarly, the comparative analysis of legislations and policies relating to demand side energy efficiency and conservation may be carried out in order to progress in this direction. Each country should prepare a national energy research agenda to be pursued by academia and other scientific research organizations. There is a tremendous need to foster research culture to develop cost-effective home grown solutions for renewable technologies, energy efficient appliances and energy conservation practices. Additionally, legal and financial advisory services may also be provided through technical assistance programmes.

Through initiating heavy investment in renewable energy sector, the public sector can save substantial resources and set a trend to be followed by private businesses and households in each nation. Hence, there is an urgent need to attract private sector investment in energy sector. Energy trade models and practices in other regions of the world may also be examined for relevance to South Asia. Energy trade may emerge as a cornerstone of regional integration and connectivity. South Asia is also advantageous in terms of its close proximity with Middle East and natural resource rich Central Asia.

Mahmudul Hasan

Mahmudul Hasasn is Lecturer of Law at the University of Development Alternative (UODA), Bangladesh. Comments are welcome to be sent directly at mahmudul.law[at]gmail.com

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