December 12 marks the third anniversary of the Paris Agreement, a compact intended to catalyze a global reduction in carbon emissions. Yet all the statistics suggest the problem is getting worse: the latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests 2018 is likely to set a new record for carbon emissions. This stat is all the more surprising, and alarming, since 2017 saw record levels of renewable energy installation. How to explain this contradiction? Well, for one thing, with global populations rising by some 83 million a year, the vast fleet of new renewable facilities aren’t sufficient to meet our planet’s energy demands. Although wind and solar power are making huge gains in the electricity sector, fossil fuels account for exactly the same share of overall energy consumption as they did 30 years ago. Despite the admirable ambitions outlined in Paris, we still can’t afford to ratchet back our energy use.
Nowhere is this truer than in Southeast Asia. Although all 10 members of ASEAN, the region’s intergovernmental association, have submitted national pledges on climate action and agreed on grandiose action plans, they currently lie at the bottom of the global league table for renewable energy deployment – and current trends suggest that it will take considerable efforts to reroute this course. For instance, Thailand’s new government has virtually brought renewables expansion to a standstill and Malaysia is the only country in the world to reduce its fleet of solar panels in recent years. It’s not surprising that the IEA expects coal will still be Southeast Asia’s primary fuel source by 2040.