Toward a Cleaner Energy Future in the Lower Mekong

The Mekong River extends 2,500 miles from China's Yunnan province to the South China Sea, navigating along Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The river supports the livelihoods of more than 50 million people through freshwater fish harvest and shows great hydropower potential. However, there are growing concerns regarding the depletion of resources in the Mekong River, pollution, and the economic future of the Lower Mekong. 

That’s why the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) exists. The initiative seeks to address critical regional development issues and trans-boundary concerns that affect the Lower Mekong and greater Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Development goals include strengthening water management regarding biodiversity and the accessibility of safe drinking water, sharing best practices within the fields of education, health, and the environment, and addressing the region’s vulnerability to climate change. 

Tomorrow, the initiative is hosting a dialogue as part of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Asia Clean Energy Forum in Manila, Philippines. The LMI Renewable and Clean Energy Business Dialogue will set the stage for future development of public-private partnerships between major actors in the sustainable energy sector and ministry representatives from member states. 

Trans-boundary collaboration is necessary in order to find alternative renewable and clean energy in the region. Lower Mekong countries desire to strike a balance of economic growth opportunities while preserving natural resources and maintaining a health ecosystem. As energy consumption within the region continues to rise, renewable and cleaner energy generation, distribution, and transmission is a key goal of ASEAN, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and the Lower Mekong. Clean energy, inclusive of natural gas and energy efficiency measures, presents a viable and optimistic future direction of regional investment. The promotion of clean energy in the Lower Mekong and increased U.S. private investment could help stabilize budgets, reduce energy imports, and result in lower carbon emissions. The prospects within public-private partnerships and international business-to-business opportunities shed hope for sustainable solutions on cross-border environmental issues. Increased business activity will help vulnerable populations along the river and protect collective natural resources.

The development of a sustainable future in the Lower Mekong will also promote U.S. investment and business opportunities in the region. Key initiatives of tomorrow’s dialogue are to identify mechanisms of clean energy, spanning from the use of solar and wind power; discuss the use of biomass in the Lower Mekong power mixture; and address the financing support for renewable energy.

The Clean Energy Dialogue will provide a forum for productive conversations and relationships within the renewable energy context, promoting the use of innovative designs and technology, and mapping the future of energy within the region. The enhanced cooperation among regional ministries from Lower Mekong countries, in partnership with the United States, demonstrates dedication to global renewable energy and the development of a secure environmental future.

Kristen Donnelly is an associate on the Asia and Middle East Growth Best Practices (AMEG) project management unit in Chemonics’ Middle East region.

Posted in: Sustainable Energy
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