Between November 30 and December 12, 2015, policymakers from around the globe convened in Paris for the 21st annual Conference of the Parties (COP21). Countries gathered to set targets to cap carbon emissions by 2030 to mitigate catastrophic effects from global temperature increase greater than 2°C. As a result of these negotiations, countries have agreed to historic multilateral and multisector pledges, which will strive to keep temperature increases to under 1.5°C and established a legally binding framework for periodic review of country efforts and progress
Evaluating the path to implementation requires a deeper look at individual climate pledges that countries made before arriving in Paris. Numerous specialists have previously noted these targets fall short of even the 2°C goal. In achieving goals set at Paris, the Asia-Pacific will play a critical role. The region is home to six of the top ten emitters of CO₂ (China, the United States, India, Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia), and over the past four decades emissions have grown by 330%. The Asia-Pacific also accounts for more than 40% of global energy demand, and under business-as-usual scenarios anticipated demand growth would add new emissions.
To better inform members of the policy, media, and corporate communities, the National Bureau of Asian Research has compiled the following fact sheet to help identify where policy and industry support will be needed to achieve these goals by deepening understanding of the energy and environmental efforts and challenges facing select countries across the Asia-Pacific.
China’s national goals will be a crucial part of the global effort to reduce emissions. The country is a major energy consumer and producer, the world’s largest emitter of CO₂, and a global leader in efforts to advance clean energy sources and technologies. In preparation for the negotiations in Paris, China announced last June that by 2030 it aims to cut its CO₂ emission intensity (annual emissions divided by GDP) by 60%–65% from 2005 levels and to peak its emissions around the same time.
China’s major challenge in achieving this goal is the enormous scale of its energy demand. China and the United States are the two largest users of energy worldwide, but China’s energy demand is expected to be twice that of the United States by 2040. Unless this growth is accompanied by intense mitigation and regulatory measures, the volume of emissions will increase rapidly.
China not only has announced substantial targets for reducing emissions but also has already shown an active commitment to reach these ambitious goals. At the 2015 Pacific Energy Summit in Beijing, high-level experts discussed the country’s plans to change the composition of its energy mix. Although China is still highly dependent on coal for approximately 65% of energy production, it is the global leader in utilizing ultra-supercritical technology in coal-fired power plants. These plants operate at an efficiency close to 45%, whereas older plants are only 27%–33% efficient. The implication is that in many cases China is deploying coal technology that is among some of the most advanced in the world, even when compared with the United States and Japan.
China has also announced plans to reduce its dependence on coal by increasing its use of gas to 10% of its energy mix and non-fossil fuel to 20% by 2020. However, questions remain about the feasibility of doubling the use of natural gas from 5% to 10% given that the country’s demand for natural gas has slowed with the declining rate of economic growth. A large component of China’s plan to transition the energy mix is to rapidly develop nuclear power capabilities by adding an additional 27 plants to its current 23 nuclear reactors. In addition to domestic clean energy initiatives, President Xi Jinping announced in his opening statement at COP21 that China’s South-South Climate Cooperation Fund will start one hundred projects in developing countries and provide one thousand training opportunities to help mitigate climate change.
China’s pledges at Paris are based on the 2014 bilateral pledge between China and the United States, in which Beijing made its first ever commitment to reducing carbon emissions. The joint initiative undertaken by China and the United States to curb the effects of climate change had set an ambitious tone for international climate negotiations. Yet China will continue to face challenges that require new solutions and must continue to improve its energy use.
India is another one of the largest global emitters of CO₂, and therefore its national contributions are crucial for the success of any global effort to mitigate climate change. As of 2013, India ranks as the world’s fourth-largest carbon emitter—yet its per capita emissions only reached 1.7 metric tons, a figure significantly smaller than the global average of 5 metric tons. In this context, India has proposed that an equitable contribution for its intended nationally determined contributions (INDC) be to keep per capita emissions under the level of developed countries and to reduce emissions to a level 33%–35% below its 2005 emissions.
A core element of India’s mitigation strategy is expanding the share of non-fossil fuels in electricity generation from 27% to 40% by 2030. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s energy strategy has highlighted the importance of increasing the share of renewables—particularly wind, solar, and biomass—in the country’s energy mix to advance additional zero-carbon energy options. The national commitment specifies that India will have a renewable energy capacity of 175 gigawatts (GW) by 2022, 100 GW of which will come from solar power. As a way to meet this national goal, India formally launched the International Solar Alliance at the opening of COP21, which aims to increase implementation of solar infrastructure in over one hundred countries worldwide.
In 2014, the Indian Planning Commission released a report that discussed how natural gas and renewables such as nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, and solar will all be implemented as forms of clean energy. However, natural gas as an alternative for higher-emitting fossil fuels was left out of India’s INDC. The development of more natural gas plants in combination with greater reliance on renewables in its energy mix would help India achieve the target set in the INDC.
Given the pressing need to reduce domestic energy poverty, India continues to stress the importance of increasing access to energy as a priority over reducing emissions. As Modi said in his opening statement at COP21, India must continue to develop so it can “meet the aspirations of 1.25 billion people, 300 million of whom are without access to energy.” The Indian government has made it clear that although it is undertaking ambitious measures, the primary responsibility to reduce emissions lies with developed countries who “have the most room to make the cuts and make the strongest impact.” Alongside the ambitious plans for renewable energy noted above, it also will steadily increase oil imports and use more coal in order to increase energy access.
It is clear that India’s commitments to mitigating climate change are entering a new phase, and the country’s ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions are laudable; however, as Modi stated in his opening, “the world’s billions at the bottom of the development ladder are seeking space to grow.” If this growth relies too heavily on fossil fuels, however, the effects on climate change will outweigh the benefit of the current combined national commitments.
Indonesia has long been a major energy power in Southeast Asia, yet its overall energy security outlook has shifted: increasing domestic demand for energy is both putting pressure on the country’s role as a regional supplier and fostering new challenges for the environmental management of energy resources. Concurrently one of the world’s ten-largest greenhouse gas emitters, Indonesia aims to reduce emissions by 29% by 2030 from a business-as-usual scenario and sees an opportunity for reductions of up to 41% pending financial support from the international community.
The Indonesian government’s national energy policy plans to achieve a substantial portion of its emissions goals by increasing the share of renewables in the country’s energy mix from 6% in 2012 to at least 23% by 2025. These goals reflect recent energy reforms that place a priority on introducing more renewables by reducing costly fuel subsidies, which have long crowded out funding for infrastructure and alternative fuel.
Yet, with demand for energy expected to triple by 2030, the government’s ability to reduce emissions will be challenged by the need to meet growing energy demand to support economic growth. This is not due to a lack of supply potential. It is important to note that while Indonesia’s commitment to renewables may be a big jump for its renewable capacity, Indonesia has significant untapped domestic potential for meeting this goal, including hydro and geothermal resources. Rather, at such high anticipated levels of energy demand growth, Indonesia’s reliance on virtually every available energy source, including an expanded share of coal and other fossil fuels, will also grow. Out of the additional 35 GW of electricity capacity proposed by the current administration, 60% of this generation will be met by coal power. Indonesia also possesses large untapped natural gas potential that could be used to meet electricity demand. However, the feasibility of realizing this potential is complicated by the lack of regulatory clarity and investor confidence necessary for development. Therefore, in addition to promoting the further integration of cleaner supplies into Indonesia’s energy mix, improving the emissions efficiency of coal plants will be key to the country’s environmental policymaking efforts.
Finally, it is critical to note the extent to which Indonesia’s environmental policymaking challenges do not just involve issues of energy security. Indonesia’s strategy for mitigating climate change is also faced with challenges in managing emissions from deforestation, peatland destruction, and transportation. In particular, while land transportation contributes to a large portion of Indonesia’s CO₂ emissions, numerous experts have noted that adequate policies for improving emissions efficiency have not yet been introduced. Moreover, recent wildfires, which have emitted almost the equivalent of Brazil’s annual emissions, have nearly tripled Indonesia’s annual emissions and raised questions over the lack of detail in the country’s climate change plans. To address these international concerns, President Joko Widodo announced at the COP21 that his government would establish a central agency to manage its peatland and forest fires. This measure could help mitigate the potential effects of emissions from fires, yet Indonesia will continue to face significant challenges in meeting emissions goals.
Indonesia’s INDCs come at a critical stage in the country’s economic growth and reform of its energy sector. The targets for reducing emissions and increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix are ambitious, reflecting Indonesia’s commitment to mitigating climate change. However, efforts to achieve these goals will be complicated by the difficulties of meeting surging energy demand and managing emissions.
Japan’s INDC pledges to reduce emissions by 26% from 2013 levels. The use of the 2013 baseline level of emissions, compared with other developed countries that use 2005 levels, reflects the country’s unique challenges. Japan is faced with limited domestic energy sources and saw a radical change in its energy calculations as a result of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Japan’s pre-disaster strategy for reducing overall emissions had emphasized the role of nuclear power in the country’s energy mix, yet following the disaster Japan shut down all of its existing nuclear plants. This action led to an immediate increase in its reliance on fossil fuel and has caused emissions to steadily rise, forcing Japan to revise the 2020 pledge that it made in 2009. To move the country toward a more sustainable energy path, the Ministry of Energy, Trade and Industry announced that, going forward through 2030, the country’s new energy plan will aim to satisfy 10%–11% of energy demand from nuclear sources and 13%–14% from renewables. Japan’s efforts to increase and develop renewables will be helped by the deregulation of its electricity sector, which is set to completely remove monopolies by April 2016. Additionally, while domestic opposition has long stalled nuclear restarts, approval from the Nuclear Regulation Authority allowed the government to restart two reactors in 2015.
Furthermore, although Japan is already a world leader in energy efficiency, renewed energy conservation efforts to reduce the impacts of the nuclear shutdown have had deep long-term effects on energy efficiency across industries and in households. Continuing this positive trend, Japan plans to reduce overall energy demand by 13% through energy efficiency policies.
Nonetheless, Japan’s economy will continue to rely on fossil fuels to meet 75% of its energy needs through 2030. Experts observe that Japan will continue to move away from dependence on oil, despite recent lower prices. Yet although there are alternatives to fossil fuels in electricity generation, alternatives to fossil fuels in transportation, household use, or industrial sectors are limited. Environmental experts have pointed out that Japan’s continued reliance on fossil fuels and relatively low use of renewable sources departs from international efforts, including the pledge by the Group of Seven (G-7) to decarbonize the global economy. Thus, in meeting its commitments, Japan will continue to struggle with the lingering effects of the nuclear shutdown and in the short term faces key challenges to achieving its INDC goals while transitioning to a low-carbon economy.
Singapore proposes in its INDCs to reduce its emissions intensity by 36%, compared with 2005 levels, and also peak emissions volume at the same time in 2030. To achieve these goals, the government has taken steps to strengthen the energy mix and improve energy efficiency. Since the 2000s, Singapore has dramatically expanded the role of natural gas in the country’s electricity generation as a lower-emission alternative to previous fuel sources employed by the country. Singapore has also made major investments in utilizing smart grids. In 2009, it launched the Intelligent Energy System project, a two-phase pilot project for smart-grid technology, which upgrades electricity delivery systems with digital remote control and automation capabilities. Although Singapore already enjoys a reliable grid system, a smart grid would integrate the actions and responses of grid operators, utility retailers, businesses, and consumers to increase efficiency. As urbanization continues to be a major trend in Asia, Singapore’s smart city vision could offer an energy-efficient alternative for growing cities.
Yet significant challenges remain for Singapore, particularly when looking beyond electricity sector emissions. As one of the world’s largest international navigation and aviation hubs, emissions associated with these activities have a significant impact on Singapore’s overall emissions outlook; by some estimates, these emissions are triple the amount that the country produces on its own and have been steadily rising. Analysts have argued that if emissions from international navigation and aviation were included in the country’s assessments, its plans for reducing emissions would have little impact. Additionally, Singapore’s role as one of the largest hubs for refining oil and trading oil products complicates it efforts to meet INDC goals. Petroleum refining and trading already contribute a large share to Singapore’s GDP, and these activities are projected to increase, potentially elevating associated greenhouse gas emissions.
Singapore’s successful strategy articulates what countries could consider to reduce emissions—decreasing dependence on coal and oil by switching to natural gas in power generation or achieving emissions reductions by pursuing innovative efficiency strategies. However, Singapore’s ability to meet environmental goals set at COP21 will be complicated by its role as a regional trading hub and the limits of its energy efficiency policies.
South Korea has announced that it will reduce emissions by 37% by 2030 compared with business-as-usual scenarios. These goals will largely be achieved by increasing the amount of renewables in its energy mix. As a country heavily reliant on energy imports, increasing renewables is an integral part of improving energy self-sufficiency. South Korea’s long-term energy plan released by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy proposed building two new nuclear power plants to account for 28.5% of the country’s energy mix in 2029 and increasing installed renewable energy capacity fivefold by 2029 to make up 4.6% of the energy mix. However, domestic opposition due to safety concerns makes this planned shift to nuclear power uncertain.
The government plans to achieve the remaining emissions goals through purchasing carbon credits from international carbon markets and implementing a domestic carbon cap-and-trade system.  Yet although the government’s recently implemented green growth strategy includes a cap-and-trade scheme, experts have voiced concerns over the slow implementation of trading markets and the lack of stringent measures to enforce emissions caps.
In addition, South Korea’s emissions intensity is relatively high compared with other developed economies. Since 2008, the government has made considerable efforts to reduce energy intensity, but the predominance of manufacturing and intensive industries in the South Korean economy and the low price of electricity have remained major obstacles.
Last, despite plans to increase nuclear power and implement a cap-and-trade regime, South Korea will continue to rely on fossil fuels for meeting its energy demand. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy proposed dropping four of the country’s newly planned coal-fired power plants in exchange for additional nuclear power plants to reduce the share of fossil fuels in South Korea’s energy mix to 32.2% in 2029; however, coal still remains the largest single source of electricity, making up 45% of total electricity production. The share of gas in the country’s energy mix will continue to increase, reaching up to 15.4% of total energy in 2020. Given these factors, South Korea faces unique challenges to achieving its goals for reducing carbon emissions.
In recent years, U.S. emissions have fallen by close to 12%, largely due to a shift in energy dependence from coal to gas as a result of the shale gas revolution. Additionally, increased development in wind and solar power infrastructure and the popularity of fuel-efficient vehicles have lowered pollution levels, although there is still room for progress.
For its COP21 contribution, the United States pledged to reduce CO₂ emissions by 26%–28% of 2005 levels by 2025, a goal that is supported by the current proposed policies. The Climate Action Plan and Clean Power Plan, enacted in 2013 and 2015, respectively, will be instrumental in reducing CO₂ and greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
One significant challenge for the United States will be its historical record of ratifying climate treaties. Although current contributions are appropriate, the United States will struggle with implementing further policies and maintaining long-term acceptance and ratification of the agreement. With the upcoming presidential election, the potential lack of political continuity on climate change policies is another point of concern. The current presidential candidates possess a wide variety of perspectives on climate change mitigation and adaptation, which may result in a change in U.S. commitments.
Yet steps to achieve national climate goals cannot be undertaken alone, even by the United States. At the opening of COP21, President Barack Obama, along with nineteen other leaders, including those from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea, announced the launch of Mission Innovation. This project aims to double funding for R&D into clean energy innovation. This collaboration will be critical because each country can improve on its own energy policies by learning from the successes and challenges of other nations.
The ambitious goals in INDCs across the Asia-Pacific reflect the region’s strong commitment to reducing emissions. These goals were echoed at COP21, including potential increases in reduction commitments. Yet each country’s INDCs must be understood in the context of its unique energy landscape.
Based on the INDCs submitted before the outset of the conference, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change estimated that these targets will only prevent global temperatures from surpassing a 2.7°C increase by the year 2100. Although current contributions will not meet the overarching goal of staying under 2°C, compared with previously projected global temperature increases of 4°C–5°C, they reflect the lofty ambitions of countries to combat climate change.
COP21 has been successful so far in pushing forward the international conversation on reducing emissions. Amid calls at the summit to increase temperature goals to 1.5°C, key deliverables include a legally binding agreement and periodic five-year reviews. However, the summit still leaves unfinished discussions on the financing of cleaner energy efforts by developing countries and a pathway toward a low-carbon global economy.
Debates over investment in renewable energy research reflect the consensus that to achieve a low-carbon economy there needs to be a breakthrough in alternatives to carbon-emitting fossil fuels. This is true for Asia-Pacific nations, which have increased their commitments to renewables yet will likely remain reliant on fossil fuels for satisfying growing energy demand. While the world waits for these breakthroughs, policymakers could consider increasing emissions efficiency for current energy options. Moreover, as the Asia-Pacific remains the driving force in world economic and energy outlooks, reduction efforts in the region will be pivotal to achieving global energy and environmental goals.
Enabling Clean-Coal Technologies in Emerging Asia by Han Phoumin
Peak Coal in China: Rethinking the Unimaginable by Li Zhidong
Japan’s Response to Its New Energy Security Challenges by Tsutomu Toichi
U.S., Japanese, and Asian Energy Security in a New Energy Era by Mikkal E. Herberg
China’s Market-Oriented Reforms in the Energy and Environmental Sectors by An Bo, Lin Weibin, Zhou Aiming, and Zhou Wei
Taking Renewable Energy to Scale in Asia by Letha Tawney
Indonesia’s Energy Policy: Challenges and Opportunities by Alexandra Stuart
This fact sheet was prepared by Ashley Johnson, an Intern with NBR’s Trade, Economic, and Energy Affairs group, and Sara Itagaki, a Project Associate at NBR.