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Thailand’s green meetings prove Asean’s commitment to sustainability goals

By Muhammad Rizki Kresnawan
25 April 2019
When Singapore handed the Asean helm to Thailand last November, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha unveiled the theme of its chairmanship for this year as “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability”.

Thailand will host more than 70 major Asean meetings this year, with an additional 200 supporting meetings also on the cards.

Every single one of these requires large amounts of fuel to ferry participants from various capitals to Bangkok or other Thai cities, as well as electricity for the venues. It is no secret that energy efficiency at the meetings has ample room for improvement, from the use air-cooling systems to the vast piles of paper printed for attendees.

As such, Thailand’s plans for more environmentally friendly Asean meetings are applauded by many. Referred to as “green meetings”, these will highlight the commitment of the host country in six ways: Use of sustainable products, donation of used meeting equipment to local communities, reuse of conference materials, recycling of conference waste, reduction of plastic use, and reducing paper by using digital documents and electronic tools.

Singapore pioneered the use of digital and electronic tools last year with its “paperless” Asean meetings. It also developed a mobile app that contained the information and materials for each meeting. Singapore held 116 Asean meetings last year, each with an average of 50 to 100 participants. If every single participant had received a bundle of printed documents, an estimated two to four million paper sheets would have been used. Using the calculator from the Environmental Paper Network, two to four million sheets of paper equates to 250 to 500 trees being cut, or 300 to 600 million thermal units, which would generate 100 to 200 tonnes of CO2 emissions. This calculation demonstrates that shifting from conventional paper-based meetings to green meetings has a big impact on energy efficiency and CO2 emissions.

As well as chairing Asean, Thailand is also heading the Asean Energy Efficiency and Conservation Sub-sector Network in 2019. The network consists of representatives of Asean member states and is tasked with implementing programmes and activities in support of regional energy goals.

At the 33rd Asean Ministers on Energy Meeting in September 2015, member countries agreed to target a reduction in their collective energy intensity level (energy efficiency) of 20 per cent by 2020 and 30 per cent by 2025, based on 2005 levels. Last year, at the 36th Asean Energy Meeting held in Singapore, ministers announced good progress towards the target, with a 21.9 per cent reduction in energy intensity achieved in 2016, compared to 2005 levels, exceeding the Asean’s 2020 target.

That impressive progress is attributed to, among others, the success in strengthening energy management systems and certification programmes in Asean, and the enhancement of the Asean Standards Harmonisation Initiatives for Energy Efficiency platform, supported by the European Union.

Now, the progress in energy efficiency needs to be amplified with other collective efforts, which should start where the decisions are made – in Asean meetings. Thailand made a great decision in building on the example set by Singapore last year and initiating green meetings. These will help achieve regional energy efficiency targets, but they will also set an example for national policymakers as they partake in the global effort to meet pledges under the Paris Agreement.

Muhammad Rizki Kresnawan is a research analyst for the Asean Climate Change and Energy Project at the Asean Centre for Energy. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of institutions or organisations that the author may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity unless explicitly stated.

This Op-Ed originally appeared in The Nation Thailand, 25 April 2019