Countries in Southeast Asia have ambitious plans to expand the use of gas, with 138 gigawatts (GW) of gas power plants in the pipeline, a report said on Monday.
The total estimated cost of these projects is expected to reach up to US$102 billion (S$140 billion), surpassing that of East Asia, which has 77GW of gas plants under development at an estimated cost of US$84 billion.
But these projects could set back the fight against climate change by speeding up global warming and harming marine biodiversity, the report by the Centre for Energy Ecology and Development (Ceed) warned.
It noted that at least 118 liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals are being proposed or being built in Southeast Asia.
If all planned gas expansions are built, the gas-fired operating capacity in Southeast Asia will increase more than twofold, with Vietnam leading the region’s planned expansion with 56.3GW in the pipeline, and 29.9GW in development in the Philippines, the report said.
Countries like Indonesia and Malaysia are aggressively expanding their LNG terminals for export of gas, while Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam have been increasing imports of gas due to depleting gas fields.
According to the report, which was updated in October, Thailand constitutes almost a third of new LNG import capacity in development in the region, at 40.3 million tonnes per year.
“Over the years, LNG has become a more popular fuel option for countries that seek to improve energy sufficiency while avoiding further exposure to coal investment risks,” said Ceed executive director Gerry Arances.
The scale of methane emissions from the use of gas is expected to grow exponentially, the report cautioned. Methane has a global warming potential of 28 to 34 times higher than carbon dioxide.
This would reduce the chances of the world limiting global mean temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the benchmark set by the United Nations’ science panel to avert the catastrophic consequences of climate change.
The report also highlighted the threat to marine biodiversity in the region as a result of gas expansion plans. For example, marine biodiversity hot spots like the Verde Island Passage in the Philippines is home to over 1,700 fish species, 338 coral species and thousands of other marine organisms.
“This globally significant marine biodiversity hot spot is threatened by massive fossil gas proposals, eight new gas power plants and seven new LNG terminals in the pipeline, on top of the already existing coal and gas fleet in the area,” the report added.
Nithi Nesadurai, regional coordinator of the Climate Action Network Southeast Asia, said all these investments in natural gas could instead be channeled to renewable energy.
“The more we get into this (LNG) pathway, the more we will be locked in, especially with stranded assets further down the line. It is very dangerous and it’s not going to help ASEAN countries meet their 1.5 degrees Celsius targets,” he added.
A separate report from Oil Change International published last week stated that Japan is pushing ahead with support for new gas infrastructure despite opposition from local communities and corresponding project delays.
“Projects in Mozambique, the Philippines and Australia, for example, threaten rich biodiversity, the livelihoods of people reliant on local ecosystems, and communities who are facing relocation,” it added.