Southeast Asia's $220 Billion Gas Expansion Plans Could Hinder Energy Transition, Says GEM

(Reuters) — Southeast Asian countries are planning to invest as much as $220 billion on a rapid natural gas expansion program that could slow the region's clean energy transition, research by Global Energy Monitor (GEM) showed on Thursday.

If all the planned projects go ahead, they could raise Southeast Asia's gas-fired power capacity by more than 100 gigawatts (GW), doubling the current level, and raise liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports into the region by 80%, according to data compiled by GEM.

"Energy demand is increasing across Southeast Asia as economies grow, but ramping up gas production is not a long-term solution," said Warda Ajaz, who runs GEM's Asia Gas Tracker project, adding much of the increased demand could be met by renewables.

Analysts estimate that more than 1,000 companies are currently building new gas infrastructure around the world. Around 65% of new gas-fired power capacity is being built in Asia.

Vietnam alone has 44 GW of gas power in development, as well as 12.1 million metric tons per year of LNG import capacity, GEM said.

Proponents of natural gas describe it as a transition fuel that allows developing countries to generate economic growth without having to rely on dirtier and more carbon-intensive coal.

However, critics say the climate impact of gas is also huge, especially when it leaks into the atmosphere, with methane a significantly more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

Opponents also warn that countries building new facilities are at risk of being lumbered with billions of dollars’ worth of stranded assets.

To be on track to bring emissions to net zero by 2050, natural gas demand needs to fall from more than 4 trillion cubic meters in 2022 to 3.4 trillion by the end of this decade, the International Energy Agency said last year.

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