Asia’s latest eclectic response to carbon emissions


Asia is at a crossroads between economic development and environmental protection on many fronts. Today we would like to highlight the two extreme positions that coexist in Asia, from a new South Korean president that has ensured the closure of coal fired plants to a plan to open 10 new such plants in Myanmar, already one of the most polluted countries in the world!

The Asian continent accounts for approximately 41% of carbon emissions, even if a per capita basis, carbon emissions are still low due to its large population size. What is evident from this is the potential for the current percentage of carbon emissions to increase dramatically with the expected economic development in the Region.

While some actions are being taken to clean the air…

Only in the last month we’ve seen news showing the disparity in carbon policies in the region. On one hand, China is rolling out the largest investment in solar and wind power in order to reduce coal powered electricity and has vowed to reduce the steel production capacity (a highly polluting industry) by 50 million tonnes. Furthermore, in March, China announced the closure of 103 coal power plants. This will have a major impact on improving regional air quality.

In this same line, Moon Jae-in – South Korea’s new president, started on the front foot fighting air pollution and ordered the shutdown of ten old coal power plants to address public protests. They will be temporarily shut down and by the end of his term, they are expected to be permanently shut down.

…other actions are being taken to increase power generation

On the other side, there are countries like Myanmar which have made public their plans to open 10 new coal-fired plants. The air quality in Myanmar is among the dirtiest in the world with six cities with higher counts of PM10 than Beijing! It is true that the country is currently only providing energy to less than 30% of the population and increased power is required to attract foreign investment, but it is also true that there are plans to build a hydroelectric dam to harness Irrawady’s river power, power which will be sold almost entirely to China (90%).

Another example of this situation is Bangladesh, which is constructing a power plant on the edge of the world’s largest mangrove: the Sundarbans. This project threatens the UNESCO-protected mangroves that are a barrier against storms and cyclones and has the potential to severely affect human health from air pollution, water pollution and storm emergencies. Campaigners have protested heavily to halt the construction.


Regional solutions?

Participants in the recent Belt&Road initiative have called on the need to implement in full the Paris Agreement. However, Asia faces enormous challenges and opportunities that would most benefit from increased regional co-operation in this initiative.

Increased knowledge about air pollution and its health consequences have sparked actions in the region to reduce the number of existing coal-fired plants. The more we talk about this, the more we can put pressure on governments to improve air quality in Asia.



Carbon Governance in Asia: Bridging Scales and Disciplines



Policies: the debated carbon tax


Following COP21 and the Paris Agreement governments representing 96% of global greenhouse emissions (GHG) and 98% of the world’s population committed to reduce their emissions. They now need to ensure businesses and individuals use energy with less GHG emissions.  

Currently there are two market-based options to encourage lower emissions based on higher costs for polluting industries: the carbon tax and cap-and-trade schemes (ETS). The carbon tax is a levy on the production, distribution and use of fossil fuels based on the amount of carbon emitted in that specific process, which is then translated into a tax on electricity, natural gas or oil. This system is built to encourage businesses and individuals to consume less energy or do it more efficiently, the more electricity they use the higher its cost. Therefore, the carbon tax policy encourages the use of less electricity by improving efficiency and at the same time it also makes green energy more price-competitive.

How do governments price carbon?

They put together all the costs caused by carbon emissions, such as healthcare costs, agricultural costs and others; and they tie them to the carbon used per year. It makes those responsible for the emission, responsible for the external costs of that emission too, and signals the need to reduce emissions or pay for it.

Technically, we have advanced considerably in carbon tax policies. The Paris Agreement has been a stepping stone to increase carbon pricing initiatives across the globe, in its Article 6 the Agreement provides a basis to facilitate carbon pricing. And according to the World Bank, 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and provinces use carbon pricing –they account for 13% of annual global greenhouse emissions. Now 100 countries additional –accounting for 58% of global GHG- are planning or considering carbon pricing policies. Many of these initiatives are at a very early stage, but nonetheless they have taken that positive step which can then be the beginning of a more aggressive pricing strategy. The most promising advance for this coming year is that China is expected to implement its ETS. This would be the largest increase of GHG covered by carbon pricing.

Summary map of existing, emerging and potential regional, national and subnational carbon pricing initiatives (ETS and tax) from World Bank. State and Trends of Carbon Pricing 2016 (October)

However, the reality of many regions of the world and notably of Asia shows just how challenging this can be and why these policy efforts are sometimes not felt in the actual air we breathe.

In Asia, change could translate to significantly lower global carbon emissions. Because Asia is the largest emitter – 33% of the global emissions are generated in Asia where China alone uses more coal than the rest of the world combined, any successful implementation of policies can have a huge impact globally. However, the challenge is big. India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other Asian countries have a growing demand for electricity to meet their developmental needs -expected to double by 2030- and plans for this expansion rely heavily on coal fueled electricity. Nonetheless, China has a great interest to change their carbon emission trends and has set the target to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and increasing the non-fossil fuel to 20% by 2030. Similarly, India, Vietnam and Bangladesh are actively working to increase the use of renewables in the energy mix. The question is how can the solar energy or wind energy projects in all these countries be scaled-up to represent a larger portion of the national energy mix.

What can businesses and individuals do?

A quote by an American Author seems relevant at this point.

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” 
― Edward Everett Hale

Strive for energy efficiency because you can!


Sources: Bank, Ecofys and Vivid Economics. 2016. State and Trends of Carbon Pricing 2016 (October), by World Bank, Washington, DC. Doi: 10.1596/978-1-4648-1001-5 License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO accessed through:


World Energy Outlook Special Report 2016: Energy and Air Pollution


Energy production and consumption is the main culprit of increasing air pollution, but technology also has the capacity to reduce it. In fact, 85% of particulate matter and almost all nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides are the result of unregulated, poorly regulated or inefficient fuel combustion energy production and use. For this reason, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published in June the 2016 World Energy Outlook devoted to Energy and Air Pollution.

The report highlights the link between energy, air pollution and health that causes 6.5 million deaths every year causing a public health crisis. The IEA also acknowledges the responsibility of energy production and consumption in our air pollution whilst signalling that the energy sector has the technology to decrease air pollution.

Three pollutants: particulate matter, nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxide exert the greatest health impact on us and they are largely man-made created through the production or use of energy.

On one side, 2.7 billion people cook with wood and other solid fuels, mostly in developing Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. This burning of biomass accounts for more than 50% of particulate matter emissions, substantially indoor pollution.

On the other side, power plants, industrial facilities and transport are the main cause of air pollution linked to 3 million deaths per year. While coal and oil have powered economic growth in many countries, coal is responsible for 60% of sulphur dioxide emissions and transport fuels generate 50% of nitrogen oxide.

However, this situation has the potential to substantially change. The report explains that by 2040 it is expected that energy demand will rise by one third with a 7% fall in emission of particulate matter, a 20% decline of sulphur dioxide and a 10% decline in nitrogen dioxide. How can this be? Mostly thanks to increasing implementation of air pollution control technologies and a global transition to cleaner energies that are already developed and up and running in some countries.

The IEA proposes a Clean Air Scenario that reconciles the need for energy and the need for clean air and will only require a 7% increase in energy investment. The technologies to make this a reality exist and are in use, but need to be scaled to meet the demand of many more countries. The Clean Air Scenario calls for a concerted effort to deal with energy poverty in developing countries; to reduce pollutant emissions through post-combustion control technologies; and to avoid emissions completely by promoting clean energy across the world.


The International Energy Agency (IEA) is an autonomous agency that has been working for more than 40 years to promote energy security among its members and among its objectives is to promote sustainable energy policies that spur economic growth and environmental protection to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
The full report can be downloaded from: