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IRENA and ESCAP Step up Joint Efforts to Support Asia-Pacific’s Crisis Response

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The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) will work together to improve access to sustainable energy, bolstering the Asia-Pacific region’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The two organisations will offer recommendations to governments in the region positioning the energy transition as an integral part of the immediate response to the crisis and medium to long-term recovery efforts. 

Asia-Pacific, home to half of the world’s population, is largely dependent on fossil fuels. Diesel, for instance, fuels the majority of the region’s off-grid electricity needs. According to ESCAP, 200 million people in the Asia Pacific region live without electricity and 1.2 billion people without access to clean cooking fuel. Joint efforts will focus on developing sustainable energy policies that are closely integrated with health and industrial development policies to bolster recovery efforts and rebuild economies. 

“The pandemic is an opportunity for us to rethink our economic growth path that has come at a heavy cost to the people and planet,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. “To bring about a fundamental shift for the energy transition, we need to adopt the motto of ‘no more business as usual’ for all stakeholders. Policymakers should not lose sight of the looming climate crisis, but rather design economic stimulus packages with social inclusion and environmental sustainability built into every decision in particular sustainable energy development.”

“We are living in truly unprecedented times, calling for decisive and cooperative action among the international community to save lives and support livelihoods all over the world,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “The Asia-Pacific region faces unique energy challenges that undermine the ability of governments to respond to this crisis and build economic resilience. Renewables can underpin these efforts and therefore can play an instrumental role in both the response and the recovery.”

With national budgets strained by immediate COVID-19 needs, short to medium-term energy access investment may represent less of a priority for governments. However, underinvestment in this area could severely impact the capacity of rural health centres to support front-line health workers and provide essential services to COVID-19 patients. When a vaccine does become available, the provision of cold storage and refrigerated transport across large areas will be critical. Decentralized renewable energy technologies such as solar will be key for large-scale immunization efforts in developing countries.

Furthermore, slow progress in mainstreaming clean cooking solutions may expose millions of people to the dangerous combination of particulates and COVID-19. Scientists are already investigating links between air pollution and higher levels of coronavirus mortality, with preliminary results showing a probable correlation between the two.  

Renewables can be deployed rapidly and are therefore well-placed to support immediate crisis response efforts including electrification of public health value chains. In the medium to long-term, renewables-based energy systems can also be an engine of sustainable growth. Renewable energy costs in many parts of the world now outcompete traditional energy sources, presenting cost saving opportunities for governments and consumers while boosting energy security, building energy independence and supporting climate-related nationally determined contributions. 

According to IRENA’s recently launched Global Renewables Outlook report, renewables can supply more than half of all power needs in Southeast Asia alone by 2030, boosting the regional economy by more than 4.4 per cent and growing jobs by close to 50 per cent in the process. In a recent COVID-19 policy report for Asia and the Pacific, ESCAP identified renewable energy as one of the main sectors to include in stimulus packages.

During the 10th IRENA Assembly last January, ESCAP and IRENA signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together to increase the uptake of renewable energy in the Asia-Pacific region, support the implementation of the Paris Agreement, and contribute to the achievement of SDG7 by 2030. 

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Myanmar: Power System Efficiency Project Brings Country Closer to Universal Electricity Access

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The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a $350 million credit from the International Development Association (IDA) to increase the output and efficiency of power generation and improve the resilience of Myanmar’s electricity system to climate change and disasters. The Board also approved $110 million in additional financing for the Essential Health Services Access Project, implemented nationwide since 2015.

Myanmar needs to double its current installed power generation capacity over the next five to seven years to achieve universal electricity access by 2030. The Myanmar Power System Efficiency and Resilience Project will finance the upgrade to the Ywama gas-fired power plant, improving the availability and reliability of electricity services to consumers in the Yangon region. Investments in the power plant and in transmission infrastructure will free-up electricity supply in the rest of the country and will remove capacity constraints to enable more households to connect.

The project also contributes to Myanmar’s climate change mitigation and adaption commitments under the Paris Agreement. By using highly efficient technology, the project will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of electricity produced and investments in the power network will improve the system’s preparedness against climate change and disasters.

“Myanmar has the lowest electrification rate in South East Asia with only 50 percent of households connected to the public grid. This project will help close the power supply gap in an affordable and environmentally sustainable way, thereby removing one of the key constraints to achieving Myanmar’s goal of universal electricity access by 2030,” said Mariam Sherman, World Bank Country Director for Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR.

The Government of Myanmar adopted the National Electrification Plan in 2014 to achieve universal access to sustainable electricity services by 2030, drawing on World Bank analytical support provided through the National Electrification Project (NEP). To date, the NEP has delivered electricity access to 2 million people and to schools, rural health clinics and community centers by extending the public grid in over 5,000 rural villages and delivering Solar Home Systems and renewable energy mini-grids in 7,200 villages throughout the country.

Access to Quality Health Services

The additional financing for the Myanmar Essential Health Services Access Project (EHSAP), consisting of a $100 million IDA credit and a $10 million Global Financing Facility (GFF) grant, will continue to support the Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) to increase access to quality essential health services, with a focus on maternal, newborn, and child health.

Since 2015, EHSAP has supported over 12,000 primary healthcare facilities across the country, ranging from township hospitals to the sub-rural health centers, with monthly funds to improve service delivery at these critical health facilities. The project strengthens the quality of healthcare by building skills of frontline health workers. It also aims to improve the regularity and systematic approach of healthcare supervision visits and the efficiency and responsiveness of public finance through financial trainings and financial data system modernization.

The additional finance will support primary healthcare infrastructure in some of the most socio-economically disadvantaged townships so that they are fully functional for essential service delivery and to scale up activities to strengthen the health system, including pandemic preparedness and response, which will support inclusion of health service delivery for all people in Myanmar. 

“We highly appreciate the World Bank and Global Financing Facility’s additional finance for the Essential Health Services Access Project. It provides vital support in reaching the goal of our National Health Plan 2017-2021 to extend access to essential health services of good quality for all people in Myanmar,” saidUnion Minister for Health and Sports Dr. Myint Htwe.“It moreover contributes to the objective of the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan to reach universal health coverage in a pro-poor manner.”

COVID-19 Response

In the fight against COVID-19, funds under EHSAP are also being mobilized to assist capacity building and operational costs to intensify surveillance and testing activities in all states and regions, establish a functioning information and reporting system for all suspected cases, facilitate engagement with basic health staff and Ethnic Health Organizations for community surveillance, disseminate guidelines to health staff and community volunteers, and develop public Information, education and communication materials.

The World Bank has provided a $50 million loan for the Myanmar COVID-19 Emergency Response Project to help Myanmar fill a critical gap in its contingency plan to urgently increase hospital preparedness and surge capacity in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, protect health workers, and treat patients.   

This project will also receive an $8 million grant from the World Bank Group’s Global Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF). The PEF is intended to provide financial support to IDA-eligible countries in case of major multi-country disease outbreaks. The PEF grant for Myanmar will support the surge response in the health sector, with special attention on benefiting the most vulnerable groups and communities in conflict- affected areas and ethnic health providers.

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Austria’s efforts to accelerate its clean energy transition

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Austria is committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2040 at the latest – 10 years earlier than the goal set by the European Union. To meet this ambitious deadline, the Austrian government will need to significantly step up decarbonisation efforts across all parts of its energy sector, the International Energy Agency said today in its in-depth review of the country’s energy policies.

Austria’s main challenge in its transition to a cleaner energy future – a challenge shared by many IEA countries – is the decarbonisation of the heating and transport sectors. In fact, Austria’s CO2 emissions have grown since 2014, largely driven by an increase in final energy consumption in buildings and transport. Until recently, Austria risked missing its 2020 mandatory emissions reduction target that covers sectors such as buildings and transport that fall outside the European Union Emission Trading System  – and was also not on track to reach the 2030 target. 

 “At such a critical time for clean energy transitions around the world, I commend the Austrian government’s determination to accelerate the transformation of its energy system,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “The IEA looks forwards to supporting this important policy.”

The IEA welcomes the government’s plans to phase out oil- and coal-fired heating systems by 2035, while ensuring energy security. The IEA also applauds the government’s commitment to a comprehensive tax reform to achieve true-cost pricing for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in sectors not covered by the EU’s emissions trading system, especially transport.

This in-depth review was finalised before the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. The report therefore does not take into account the potential effects of the Covid-19 crisis on Austria’s energy sector and related greenhouse gas emissions.

“As Austria prepares stimulus plans to respond to the Covid-19 and resulting economic crises, the Austrian government should consider how these plans can help to create jobs while supporting the country’s clean energy transition,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “The IEA stands ready to provide advice, based on proven examples of past success and international best practice.”

Austria already has the third highest share of renewable electricity among IEA member countries at 77% of generation in 2018. It aims to raise this to 100% of electricity supply by 2030. This will require a resilient and flexible electricity system capable of accommodating a growing share of variable renewables. Such a system would support the electrification of the economy and the use of demand-side management opportunities offered by digitalisation, although this will require an enabling legal and regulatory framework for more active consumer involvement.

Austria’s vast resources of pumped hydropower storage will play an increasingly important role in both the Austrian electricity market and in the continued integration of the European market. These resources provide storage and flexibility that is needed to accommodate the growing share of variable renewable generation in the Austrian and European electricity systems. Moreover, Austria’s innovative “Greening the Gas” initiative is promoting the conversion of power to renewable gas facilities and seasonal storage of renewable gases, including hydrogen, that would help with the integration of high shares of variable renewables in electricity generation and would also make use of the country’s extensive gas storage facilities.

Austria is set to become an innovation leader in energy through the shift of the government’s research strategy towards implementation-oriented projects that accelerate the commercialisation of emerging technologies. Several innovative demonstration projects applying the use of hydrogen in the industry and transport sectors are continuing in close cooperation with the private sector.  

“I congratulate Austria on having a strong track record in mobilising private sector funding for research, development and innovation,” Dr Birol said. “The IEA also considers Austria’s recent initiative to report on energy research spending in the private sector, broken down by technology fields, as a best practice example among IEA countries.”

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World Bank: META 2 to Modernize the Energy and Mining Sectors in Brazil

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The World Bank Board of Directors approved today a US$38 million loan for the Energy and Mineral Sectors Strengthening Project II (META 2). Under the program, various Brazilian public institutions and sectoral agencies will be offered technical assistance activities varying from studies, training, methodologies, databases and IT equipment.

Brazil’s energy and mining sectors are among the largest in the developing world and are key to the country’s growth. However, both still face challenges to realize their full development potential and promote environmental sustainability and social inclusion. The project will allow the production of more reliable power, at lower prices, and the economic benefits of growing more efficient, resilient and competitive energy and mining sectors.

“The energy and mining sectors are among the main drivers of the Brazilian economy as they form the basis for the sustainability of the industrial and commercial sectors, in addition to leading to the provision of services that are essential for the quality of life of citizens. This project is a continuation of long-term collaboration with the World Bank. This new phase will promote changes to support the sustainable extraction and processing of minerals and metals to meet the needs of the global supply chain for inputs and new technologies. In energy, working together will make it possible to increase the efficiency and resilience of markets in Brazil,” said Bento Costa Lima Leite, Brazil Minister of Mining and Energy.

In Brazil, the electricity, oil and gas and mining and mineral processing sectors represent approximately 3, 13 and 4 percent, respectively, of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). These sectors, though, stand at different stages of development. The power sector is one of the most sophisticated in Latin America, but it is facing a number of challenges with respect to supply security, affordability and increasing its resilience to climate change. In the natural gas sector, Brazil has started adopting various measures under a new program aimed at establishing an open, dynamic and competitive natural gas market.This has significant potential to enhance energy security and to reduce industrial energy costs, but still needs to solve regulatory and governance issues. The mining sector requires modernization to achieve sustainable practices and a new strategy underpinned by sustainability.

“META’s first phase provided technical assistance to strengthen the capacity of key public institutions to increase the sector’s contributions towards a lower carbon growth path that is environmentally and socially sustainable,” says Paloma Anós Casero, World Bank Director for Brazil. “This second stage aims at increasing efficiency, long term infrastructure adequacy and climate resilience in both sectors, allowing them to grow in a more efficient and competitive way.”

Among the outcomes supported by the Project are:

  • Increase efficiency, long term infrastructure adequacy and climate resilience in the energy and mining sectors;
  • Institutional strengthening of energy and mining institutions to establish and implement strategies, policies and regulation; and
  • Implementation support, monitoring and evaluation, knowledge sharing and dissemination.

This fixed spread loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) to the Ministry of Energy is guaranteed by the Federative Republic of Brazil and has a final maturity of 20 years, with a 19.5 year grace period.

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