In our hi-tech age of smart phones, satellite mapping and micro-surgery, it is easy to overlook the fact that about a quarter of the world’s population still lives without electricity. For instance, in India, more than 400 million people are off the power grid as is 20 percent of the Philippines’ population. With finite reserves of oil, coal and gas, energy security – the ability to meet the energy needs of people on a sustainable basis – is a key concern globally, but particularly so in Asia, where energy demand is expected to account for 35 percent of global demand by 2025. Lack of access to energy extracts a heavy price on a country’s economic, educational and health landscape.
While some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable bear the brunt of energy shortfalls, the Centre on Asia and Globalisation (CAG) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (NUS) is playing an active role in the issue of energy security and governance in Asia with a pathbreaking research project funded by the MacArthur Foundation. The advancement of global conservation and security is a top priority of the Foundation, along with the defense of human rights, improving cities, and understanding how technology affects children and society.
Ann Florini, Director, CAG, says, “We are addressing the critical question of how to develop a system of rule-making around energy, which would allow you to deal simultaneously with various interconnected issues, like insecurity in fossil fuels, the threat of climate change and the need to provide energy to the very poor. We are doing an original mapping of the system, so you have a basis for what needs to be changed. This has not been done before.”
Focusing on three keys areas – global energy governance, creating an energy security index, and regional and local cases of energy governance in Asia – the three-year project is in its second year, with many of its initiatives nearing completion. In September this year, a special issue of Global Policy, a highly respected peer-reviewed academic journal centred at the London School of Economics, will be devoted to CAG’s research papers on global energy governance. This will be followed by a series of dissemination events around the world.
Speaking about the need to create an Asian energy security index, Ms Florini says, “The goal is to develop an index by which you can measure whether countries are making progress towards some form of energy security.” Currently, national governments have been unable to engage effectively with the global rule-making system around trade, financial flows and other big questions, she says. Her team has been working to define the field and make up a checklist of energy targets which would define where a country is placed in terms of its energy security. “This project provides insights into how you can set up a policy system that can get you to the goals you have set yourself to achieve.”
CAG is also releasing a series of 12 case studies on local and regional energy governance in various Asian countries – from Laos to Mongolia. One of the great successes of this project has also been the creation of a network of energy specialists from Asia and the West whose dialogue is critical to the issue. “We have also been actively engaged in working with partner institutions in Asia and MacArthur grantees in other parts of the world, particularly in the US. We are proud to have forged these connections and through this project established NUS as a thought-leader in the field of global energy governance,” says Ms Florini.
For the millions who have no or uncertain access to energy, and live, study and cook in the flickering light of polluting fuels once the sun goes down, this project brings a ray of hope.
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