ISEAS-SIEW Thinktank Roundtable on “Building Back Better in Post-Pandemic Southeast Asia”

In this Singapore International Energy Week Thinktank Roundtable hosted by the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, experts from diverse sectors share insights for integrating a just energy transition into Southeast Asia’s green recovery efforts. The session is available for on-demand viewing here.


Friday, 29 October 2021 – In his opening remarks, Mr Choi Shing Kwok, Director and CEO of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, provided a backdrop for the discussion on the twin challenges of economic recovery and climate action: “Southeast Asian economies are in need of revitalisation and investments by both the public and private sector. If well-placed, it is possible to provide for that economic stimulus while also accelerating progress to achieving the climate targets that the region and the world desperately needs to reach.”

Mr Choi Shing Kwok delivered the Opening remarks. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

He was followed by presentations from each member of the panel that shared progress, challenges and opportunities in Southeast Asia’s post-pandemic energy transition from the perspectives of non-governmental organisations, media, academia and the private sector.

Ms Melinda Martinus presenting on “Overview of ASEAN Countries’ Recovery Plans and Energy Transition”. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Ms Melinda Martinus, Lead Researcher at the ASEAN Studies Centre, ISEAS, discussed the disconnect between ASEAN countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) targets and stimulus spending. While some countries incorporated modest green measures to their stimulus plans, others removed environmental protection taxes in an attempt to support distressed industries. At the same time, she looked forward to new regional partnerships such as the Asia Energy Transition Initiative spearheaded by Japan, the ASEAN Framework on Circular Economy and growing discussions around marine renewable energy.

Mr Deo Gabinete presented on “Aligning Stimulus Measures with NDCs”. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Deo Gabinete, Regional Manager, Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe at NDC Partnership, shared how his organisation supports governments in preparing climate-compatible plans by providing economic expertise in a post-pandemic world. The NDC Partnership assisted Indonesia in preparing its Green Recovery Roadmap Indonesia 2021-2024. 

Ms Junice Yeo presented on “How resilient is Southeast Asia’s clean energy transition?”. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Ms Junice Yeo, Executive Director of Eco-Business, shed further light on the successes and obstacles of Southeast Asia’s energy transition over the past decade. While countries like Vietnam have achieved immense growth in renewables; political inertia, vested domestic interests and a lack of trust in other ASEAN countries stand in the way of a swift transition. “ASEAN itself needs to have some uniformity… a primary barrier is [achieving] an integrated energy policy for the region.”

Mr Simon Wilson presented on how large businesses should play a role in speeding up a just energy transition. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Simon Wilson, Head of Utility Scale Renewables Business Development, Singapore and Southeast Asia at Sembcorp Industries Ltd, shared how large businesses can and should play a role in speeding up a just energy transition: take risks and act as a vanguard, create and support ecosystems, retrain and reposition staff and give communities an opportunity to be a part of solutions. He emphasised that pursuing sustainability strategies in a just and equitable way “benefits all and builds a bond between all stakeholders and the company”.

Mr Tan Min Yih presented on “Mobility as a Service” in Asia. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Tan Min Yih, Senior Vice President of the Global Mobility Network at Shell envisioned the future state of “Mobility as a Service” in Asia, predicting that by 2030, there will be a diversity of fuel types, convenient EV charging at home and autonomous vehicles. “These developments will support different kinds of consumer lifestyles by the 2030s, bringing benefits in terms of cost, convenience, flexibility and carbon footprint.” To that end, Shell is developing a variety of low carbon fuels to give more options to its customers.

Professor Lorraine Elliott advocated for more inclusive models in public policy. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Professor Lorraine Elliott, Professor Emerita at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University, added the dimension of social energy justice to the discussion. She advocated for more inclusive models in public policy, which involves greater information disclosure, room for community input and the restructuring of high-carbon sectors. “These issues need to be thought about, not as an afterthought, but as a first-order question.”

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

In a panel discussion moderated by Ms Sharon Seah,  Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Climate Change in Southeast Asia Programme, ISEAS, the speakers addressed audience questions relating to the post-pandemic energy transition. Mr Gabinete pointed out the challenge of overcoming the limited fiscal space owed to long government budget cycles, and emphasised the need for constant engagement with the government to ensure long term buy-in. Ms Yeo raised examples of how international coordination can play a role in Southeast Asia’s transition. China and Singapore are both using their strengths to play a key role in capacity building, knowledge transfer and financial flows to the region.

Ms Seah concluded the session by reiterating that the region is facing uncharted waters in the energy transition, COVID-19 as well as climate change. All stakeholders must resist the temptation to return to the fossil fuel playbook, but move forward in mainstreaming a green recovery in every sector; and its implementation will not just take the form of a grand strategy, but also many small choices to move the transition needle.

The event drew over 200 registrants.