High Commissioner's remarks at the South Asia Power Summit
Hosted by the Asia Foundation & Confederation of Indian Industries
Thursday 14 December
(check against delivery)
[After introduction by Sagar Prasai, TAF India Director]
Thank you Sagar; good evening everyone.
Thank you to The Asia Foundation and the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) for the invitation to attend this evening, albeit for a brief time.
I know that many of you have travelled to New Delhi from across the region, and I extend a warm welcome to you. It is really encouraging that Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal – the BBIN countries – will all be represented at the Summit tomorrow. The issue of regional energy connectivity truly requires cross-border collaboration and commitment.
I’m proud to say that tomorrow’s South Asia Power Summit is the first of its kind, and I congratulate The Asia Foundation and CII on their initiative in convening this important dialogue.
This is actually the third event on energy that I have attended this month. It seems to me there is a kind of momentum building on energy issues in the South Asia region, and I’m really pleased that Australia is contributing to such an important agenda.
Australia is supporting the Summit through our regional development program, the Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio (SDIP). The focus of SDIP is to increase food, water and energy security in South Asia, and we work with a range of partners in the region in pursuit of that goal. As one of our SDIP partners, The Asia Foundation has undertaken some in-depth research and analysis on the region’s energy sector – including around access, distribution, infrastructure, markets and investment – and the potential for electricity trade between neighbours.
Certainly the potential for BBIN countries to increase and diversify their sources of energy is apparent; as is the potential that exists for surplus energy to benefit neighbouring countries with less generating capacity. In Nepal and Bhutan for example, hydropower may offer a stable source of energy that could, in part, help to alleviate the energy needs in Bangladesh.
There are obviously some very complex and challenging issues when you contemplate the generation of energy in one country, transmission through another, for consumption in a third; but we hope that the Power Summit will be the first step in charting a course towards connecting the energy markets of the BBIN countries. If achieved, this would significantly strengthen the energy security of those countries, and contribute to the prosperity of the region as a whole.
The economic and social effects of secure and reliable energy sources cannot be underestimated, particularly as consumption increases: in addition to stimulating investment opportunities in the energy sector, it would transform the lives of many millions of people who live without access to electricity, especially in rural and remote villages. Electrification of communities is life-changing across a range of development sectors, including education, communication, health, sanitation and security.
Australia understands the imperative for inclusive energy access. I am pleased to note that, earlier this year, Australia supported a number of officials from South Asia to undertake a short course on supporting energy security in this region, including strengthening cross-border energy arrangements. The course was part of our Australia Awards program, and provided officials with both knowledge and practical tools on good governance skills to promote cross-jurisdictional energy work, and integrating gender and social assessments into the energy reform agenda.
Among the many, unique challenges that the South Asia region faces in relation to energy, the effects of climate change are perhaps the most intractable. Climate change has devastating implications for water, food and energy security the world over, but this region is particularly vulnerable to its effects. These are seen in the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, like severe floods and droughts; in diminishing natural resources, especially water; in changes to the monsoon patterns; and in the retreating glaciers in the Himalaya. All of this impacts the energy security – and potential – of the region.
So I am very pleased that renewable energy is a part of the Summit’s agenda. I recently attended the International Finance Corporation’s Climate Business Forum here in New Delhi and it really became apparent to me how significantly renewable energy generation will transform the energy landscape, and the great potential for South Asia as both an innovator and as a consumer of green energy technologies.
Of course, India is already emerging as a champion of renewable energy, having committed to dramatically increase its renewable energy generation to 175 Giga Watts by 2022; one hundred Giga Watts of that will be solar power. I would just like to take the opportunity to note that last week, Australia became one of the first countries to ratify the International Solar Alliance (ISA), India’s global solar initiative. I congratulate the Indian Government on its leadership and vision in bringing the ISA to the international stage.
I also welcome the inclusion of private sector stakeholders in tomorrow’s Summit. It is increasingly clear that Public-Private Partnerships will be the most effective tools in realising energy solutions and viable, inter-connected networks across the region. We look to the private sector for its capacity to innovate, develop and finance; and to governments to create enabling policy and regulatory environments that incentivise private investment.
I commend everyone participating in this first South Asia Power Summit for their willingness to tackle a very complex issue – but one with a lot of potential to advance the economic and social development of the BBIN subregion, through improved energy security.
I wish you all a productive and constructive day tomorrow, and look forward to hearing the outcomes of your discussions.