BENGALURU, India (AP) — Asia must rapidly cut fossil fuel subsidies and plow more money into a clean energy transition to avoid catastrophic climate change that puts its own development at risk, according to a new report Thursday from the Asian Development Bank.
The region's economic development is being fueled in a carbon-intensive way that is well above the world average, said David Raitzer, an ADB economist and one of the authors of the report. He urged quick action on an energy transition for greater benefits and lower costs.
“Ambitious action on climate change with well-designed policies can have a massive payoff,” Raitzer said.
Several countries are developing new coal-fired power plants in Asia, which accounts for 94% of the global pipeline of coal-fired power plants under construction, planned, or announced, according to the report.
Even as China, India and Indonesia accounted for a third of all emissions of planet-warming gases in 2019, six of the top 10 countries most affected by extreme weather in the first two decades of this century were in Asia, according to earlier studies. It's estimated that up to $1.5 trillion in losses and damage to property were recorded in the region during that period, including unprecedented flooding in Pakistan that affected 33 million people last year.
The report estimated that 346,000 lives would be saved annually by 2030 if developing countries in Asia meet their goals for shifting to clean energy, leading to reduced air pollution. And it projected social and economic benefits from the shift equal to five times the cost of climate change impacts.
But investment in clean energy is lacking. Developing countries in Asia spent $116 billion in 2021 on subsidizing fossil fuels — much more than subsidies for renewables. Raitzer said international coordination is essential to change that.
“To reduce emissions efficiently, perverse subsidies for fossil fuels that exist now must be removed and there should be no new coal,” said Raitzer.
Other energy experts agree.
“A lot of development in Asia is linked to fossil fuel systems, which becomes a problem," said Swati D'Souza, a New Delhi-based energy analyst with the Institute for Energy, Economics and Financial Analysis who has been researching Asia's energy transition for most of a decade.
New investments in fossil fuels should be avoided, D'Souza said.
“They will become stranded assets and the costs of dealing with them will fall on governments and ultimately the local communities and people,” she said.
The report said $397 billion has been invested in the clean energy transition in Asia's developing countries, but an average annual investment of $707 billion is needed in those countries to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) called for in the Paris agreement to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
The report recommends reducing subsidies for fossil fuels, putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions and providing more policy incentives for clean energy. It said a carbon price of $70 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030 and $153 by 2050 would help achieve net-zero goals.
Carbon pricing can take many forms, but generally is a way to make companies or governments pay the potential costs of climate change — heat waves, unseasonable rains, health effects — made worse by their emissions.
"Kicking the can down the road by waiting until after 2030 to strongly reduce emissions will not be in the region’s or the world’s best interest,” said Raitzer.
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