After an intense civil society led campaign that saw the Malaysian government scrapping plans in early 2011 to build what would have been Sabah’s first coal-fired power plant, questions were raised on what grassroots movements could do next to support a vision towards workable renewable energy solutions.
A stack of post-it-notes and rounds of discussions later, the Southeast Asia Renewable Energy People’s Assembly (SEAREPA) came into being towards the end of the same year, and continues to evolve in advocating alternative energy solutions as the way forward in a world consumed by coal and other fossil fuels to meet rising energy needs.
The ground up process that birthed SEAREPA agreed to the following vision: To take the lead in showcasing community-based renewable energy solutions in building a sustainable energy-secure future that addresses climate change, environmental justice and people.
The goals are (i) To showcase working projects operated by communities and other players, creating new alliances in the process; (ii) To advocate energy justice, and address issues affecting communities engaged in renewable energy and those impacted by non-clean energy; (iii) To promote pioneering renewable energy social enterprises; and (iv) To influence policies and integrate clean energy into local and regional development plans.
After seeing it discussed through concept papers, proposals, meetings and countless emails in the span of a year, SEAREPA came alive when over 120 people representing more than 80 organisations convened in Sabah from October 29 to November 2, 2012. Every participant brought their piece to the table and collectively strengthened SEAREPA at the gathering – and they have not stopped, continuing to share their struggles and small victories through the web, promising to gather again in 2014.
The gathering at the Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC) in Sandakan decided on 12 projects, with some currently being pursued more actively compared to others. The projects include pushing policies that support decentralised production and distribution of renewable energy and community micro-hydro network building. Other projects include building a youth alliance on renewable energy in the Mekong Delta, promotion of alternative fuel vehicles, creation of a network against mega hydro-electric dams in Sarawak and the collection and sharing of information on financing institutions and their role in renewable energy. SEAREPA is also hoping to pursue the creation of an Asian journalism network using an online platform to help the region source and share information, and promote South-South exchanges for community based renewable energy systems.
Several SEAREPA members have been active in sustaining the initiatives that started at the gathering. While it was decided that there would be no gathering in 2013 similar to the inaugural one, Sri Lankan member organisation Janathakshan, US organisation Green Empowerment, SEAREPA network member Dipti Vaghela and SEAREPA coordinator Gabriel Wynn managed to hold a technical rural renewable energy workshop in Sabah from August 29 to September 2. Funding was secured from Wisions, a rural sustainable development organisation based in Germany, and the event was held at the newly established Centre for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology (CREATE Borneo).
SEAREPA is also building strong ties with the International Coal Network (ICN) and the strategy for coal campaigns is focused around supporting national movements by mobilising the two networks’ collective resources, mainly in Indonesia, the Philippines and Bangladesh. Currently, SEAREPA and ICN are facilitating a critical academic evaluation of a planned coal plant in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove rainforest ecosystem shared by Bangladesh and India, with a site visit planned for October 2013.
Achievements from network members include the cancellation of a coal-fired power plant in Palawan, Philippines; success of members Green ID (Vietnam) and Pacific Environment (US) in creating enough pressure to convince the Export-Import Bank to deny financing for the Thai Binh II coal power plant in Vietnam; and the World Resource Institute’s most recent publication on rural energy which obtained data drawn from interviews at SEAREPA 2012 and continued dialogue with members.
SEAREPA is currently sustained via a coordinator from Green Empowerment, with assistance from Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) and in-country focal point representatives. These focal point reps facilitate coordination with energy stakeholders in partner countries to conduct international collaborative projects, campaigns and research, and facilitate the dissemination of information from their country to the rest of the network, and from the rest of the region to their country. They also highlight key conference and workshops and communicate with in-country members in getting support for petitions and statements. Much of the work to continue sustaining SEAREPA also involves maintenance and management of the online community. There are plans to bring on board a skilled solar PV practitioner and researcher to assist in achieving the network’s more technical-oriented goals.
For information on SEAREPA, contact coordinator Gabriel Wynn at email@example.com.