Assessing the progress of national energy transitions against a 1.5 degrees pathway

Introduction: Southeast Asia, a region at the crossroads

The inevitable end of coal power has been known by policymakers and project developers for decades, and was formalised by the ratification of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Yet while countries around the world have made huge strides towards renewable energy solutions, new fossil fuel power plants that have no place in 2020 or beyond are still being built.

How Southeast Asia meets growing energy demand is a crucial challenge in the fight against climate change. These countries have not historically been the worst offenders in global emissions at less than 3%. But they have long relied on fossil fuels, especially coal and gas power, whose controlling economic interests have embedded themselves deep into political structures. Moreover, they will witness one of the biggest historical jumps in greenhouse gas emissions in the next ten years. Now is the time to change course.

Investment in renewable energy — wind and solar in particular — impacts job creation and other baseline economic indicators positively, as well as the transformation of energy systems. Government spending on renewable energy has been proven to create nearly three times more jobs than coal and gas. And because some renewable energy technologies, like solar, are much faster to market than coal (as solar projects have less overhead, start construction earlier and finish and go online faster), renewable energy investment is an ideal and relatively immediate vehicle for economic development. Renewable energy is analysed here as both a tool for fast recovery from economic crises such as Covid-19 and a means to build better performing, more resilient economies.

All of the countries of Southeast Asia are party to the Paris Agreement. And each has acknowledged both the imperative to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius in this century and the importance of pursuing a 1.5 degrees Celsius target. Regionally, the challenge of keeping below 1.5 degrees cannot be more urgent and should not be underestimated.

The region is one of the world’s most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2020, with four Southeast Asian countries in the top ten most vulnerable (Myanmar, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand). Impacts include coastal flooding and extreme weather events, among others, that risk the livelihoods of people across Southeast Asia. To this end, the region is also home to leading campaigns for climate justice and liability that work to hold governments and fossil fuel companies accountable for climate-related risks. This work has already provided further incentive to abandon fossil fuel generation, including the impending resolution to the climate change inquiry conducted by the Philippines Commission on Human Rights that will determine whether fossil fuel companies have legal and moral responsibility to act on the climate crisis.

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) brought together nearly 100 scientists to map out a 1.5 degrees pathway and to substantiate the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees warming. They laid out targets for where the world would need to be by 2030, 2040, and 2050 in order to be on a 1.5 degrees pathway and found that coal power has no future in these targets. In order to meet the necessary threshold, coal will need to reduce sharply by 80 percent (from 2010 levels) by 2030, meaning any coal-fired power plant (CFPP) built today goes directly against that pathway.

This report will analyse the progress of eight countries’ energy plans against this backdrop. As the development and progress of each country in the region vary substantially, this report will also compare the progress of countries against each other. This report will also present a model of electricity generation with two scenarios – a Business as Usual (BAU) Case and a Best Renewable Energy (RE) Case. The BAU Case is each country’s energy mix based on and extrapolated data from current Power Development Plans (PDPs). The Best RE Case prioritises solar and wind and focuses on a least-cost pathway to meet the same projected generation needs.


Our scope is the major power sectors of Southeast Asia, state-owned utilities that operate de facto monopolies, conglomerates that build energy projects, COVID-19 response targets for the energy transition, and the bottlenecks in market design and development where vested interests in fossil fuels (particularly coal power) still have influence.

We focus on eight countries in the region: Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Myanmar are included because the size and maturity of their institutions and recent progress allow for solar and wind development, which itself can be an engine for sustainable development goals (SDGs).8 The key SDG addressed in this report is Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, as its people-centred approach addresses the need for decision makers to prioritise clean energy development in order to bring social progress and prosperity.

We focus on utility-scale solar and wind to analyse the markets that are developing in the region, and also assess each country in a scorecard that benchmarks each country’s energy transition, energy planning, and the role of solar and wind in Covid-19 recovery packages.

This report promotes utility-scale renewable energy solutions, prioritising solar and wind above other RE resources.

Download full report here