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Dhaka Tribune

Energy can be a catalyst for peace

How energy cooperations can be a tool for positive change

Update : 12 Jul 2023, 01:08 PM

In our ever-evolving world, the vital role of energy has become increasingly apparent. Historically, conflicts have erupted due to scarcity and competition for limited energy resources. However, it is plausible and imperative to change the narrative surrounding energy, transforming it from a force for war into a powerful catalyst driving world peace. The interplay between diplomacy and technological advancements can be explored to shape a more harmonious future.

The roots of energy-related conflicts can be traced back to the industrial era when societies rapidly transformed and demanded unprecedented amounts of energy. Fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, emerged as the primary energy sources to power large-scale manufacturing since they are inexpensive and reliable. Their use sometimes led to fierce competition and geopolitical tensions. Nations engaged in bitter struggles to secure energy supplies, often resorting to war or aggressive diplomacy to safeguard their interests.

However, the rise of renewable energy, technological advancements, and international cooperation have paved the way for a new energy paradigm with opportunities for shared prosperity. Nuclear and renewable sources offer sustainable alternatives, reducing reliance on finite fossil fuels. When renewable resources in a country are insufficient to generate electricity, one option is to utilize the import of clean electricity from neighbouring nations. Not only will it help to boost the economic growth of the exporter, but also accelerate renewable energy development.

Energy interdependence promotes mutual reliance and collaborative efforts, such as regional energy alliances, joint infrastructure projects, and energy trade agreements. Large interconnection of grids and fair energy trading facilitates seamless electricity transmission between countries, ensuring a reliable and resilient energy supply. Gas, bio-energy, and hydrogen trading further diversify energy sources and enhance stability, as nations can support each other during peak demand or supply disruptions. Access to affordable and sustainable energy empowers developing countries to reduce inequalities, reach a universal electrification rate, and provide a pathway for economic growth.

Asean has recognized the importance of regional grid interconnections and multilateral power trade under the Asean Power Grid (APG) program area of the Asean Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (Apaec). In the 41st Senior Officials' Meeting on Energy, which took place at the Asean Secretariat late last month, the bloc discussed sustainable energy security via inter-connectivity. Following the success of the 100MW Lao PDR-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Interconnection Project, which commenced in June last year and sourced by hydro-power, Asean plans to expand its regional power grid in terms of capacity, coverage, and sources from other clean energy. It is then compulsory to establish an intergovernmental agreement for multilateral electricity trading. A petroleum security agreement and a common gas market are also highly prioritized by the region under the Trans-Asean Gas Pipeline program of Apaec.

As Asean chair this year, Indonesia has prioritized energy security, particularly in inter-connectivity. Despite being an energy giant with a strategic position in the region, Indonesia has not yet connected with APG, thus putting forward inter-connectivity as Indonesia's energy priority provides a great opportunity for Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines (Bimp)'s power interconnection project to thrive, it would greatly contribute to the progress and future of the APG.

Besides supporting the regional renewable energy aspirational targets, the APG could induce multiplier effects on social, economic, and environmental aspects. Furthermore, this move signifies that the APG will likely become future-proof, catering to security and transition agendas.

Asean can play a critical role in world peace through these energy connectivity initiatives. With the regional agreements as bonds, the member states can safely rely on each other to secure their energy supply when needed while ensuring sustainability, affordability, and resiliency from sudden global shocks and crises. This will also be made possible by ongoing support from dialogue partners and international organizations.

While transforming the narrative surrounding energy from a force for war to a catalyst for peace may not be an easy feat, it is undoubtedly crucial for our collective future. By embracing the optimized use of hydrocarbon, utilize various types of energy, nurturing energy diplomacy, leveraging technological advancements and establishing robust energy interconnections through regional power grids and fair trading of the remaining fossil fuels, we can reduce conflicts and build a sustainable and peaceful world. 

Embracing the potential of energy as a tool for positive change will empower nations to address the challenges of the 21st century and create a brighter life for future generations.

Nuki Agya Utama is Executive Director at Jakarta-based Aseam Centre for Energy (Ace). Rika Safrina is a researcher at Ace. Amira Bilqis is an energy modelling and policy planning associate at Ace. A version of this article previously appeared in The Bangkok Post and has been reprinted under special arrangement.

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