China Environmental NGO Aims to Boost Burma’s Renewable Energy Technologies

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 5 September 2013

RANGOON — The Global Environmental Institute of China (GEI-China) wants to assist Burma with the development of rural renewable energy technologies, offering advice through a two-day workshop ending Thursday in Rangoon.

The Beijing-based NGO, which encourages best practices in environmental protection and energy conservation internationally, aims to introduce a variety of renewable energy technologies to Burma, and to propose financial mechanisms that will allow these technologies to be deployed.

It worked with the Renewable Energy Association Myanmar (Ream) to organize the workshop.

“We want rural areas to be developed and to maintain the environment, so we can work together,” said Ream spokesman Saw Win of the collaboration.

The Global Environmental Institute was originally founded in the United States in 2003, and GEI-China is a sister organization.

Due to decades of underinvestment in electricity infrastructure, 80 percent of Burma’s rural population lacks access to electricity, while 77 percent of the total population—including in urban areas—lacks access, according to statistics from the Mekong Energy and Ecology Network.

Many families in rural areas collect firewood for cooking, with the average five-person family gathering 2.5 tons of wood annually, according to GEI-China, which said the time and cost of collecting the wood was significant for families and that the practice was detrimental to the environment.

GEI-China said renewable energy technologies would have a direct impact on 90 percent of Burma’s rural population who depend heavily on biomass fuel.

But more funding will be required, said Saw Win of Burma’s Ream.

“We need funding to implement the projects,” he told The Irrawaddy. “We have no funding as an NGO, so they need to find donors so we can work together.”

He added that Burma lacked the legal framework to tackle certain environmental issues.

“Today they were talking about renewable energy policies, but our renewable energy law has not yet been enacted, so we need more requirements here, but we do want to spread these renewable energy projects nationwide,” he said.

The country is resource-rich, but the former military regime, which was replaced by a quasi-civilian government in 2011, signed deals to export most of its oil, gas and hydropower output to China and Thailand.

Burma has in recent years boosted its electricity capacity, but most villages still remain off the grid. The topography of Burma has proven a hindrance to the expansion of transmission lines.

China has sought to construct a major hydropower dam project, the Myitsone Dam in Kachin State, with about 3,600 megawatts of new generating capacity. Burma suspended the project in 2012 due to protests from local communities about its environmental and social impact.