September 6, 2023 (Tokyo, Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok, Dhaka, Karachi, Hanoi, Delhi, Thai-Myanmar border, Kuala Lumpur)-In line with the 43rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit on September 5-7 in Jakarta, climate activists in Asia held actions urging leaders to strengthen their cooperation for the clean energy transition in the region and reject Japan’s promotion of fossil fuels.

The Summit concludes on the UN’s International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies. The group said improving air quality in the region – as well as addressing the climate and energy crises – calls for scaling up clean and affordable energy sources, such as solar and wind.

“The recent deterioration of air quality in Jakarta and extreme weather events in Asia indicate the urgent need for the region to transition from fossil fuels like coal and gas to clean energy and keep warming within the 1.5 C degrees Celsius threshold,” said Novita Indri, Energy Campaigner at Trend Asia.

Poor air quality is a regional issue across ASEAN member states, which primarily rely on fossil fuels for power. According to the World Air Quality Index, Jakarta is one of the most polluted cities in the world. The city’s pollution has been attributed to traffic, factories, and open burning.

While all of these factors contribute to air pollution, the continued burning of fossil fuels like coal has a major impact. According to a study by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), air pollutant emissions from coal-fired power plants in Indonesia has increased by 110 percent in the past ten years. Under the country’s current policies, this number is expected to rise another 70 percent by 2030.

“ASEAN should not only be the center of economic growth but the center of renewable energy growth,” said Indri. “Air pollution is just one of the numerous issues that will continue to occur, causing illness to hundreds of thousands of citizens and thousands of deaths if Indonesia continues to rely on fossil fuels like coal.”

Bondan Andriyanu, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia, said fossil fuel-driven air pollution has also led to huge financial losses for ASEAN nations, especially Indonesia.

“In Indonesia, the cost of treating six kinds of respiratory diseases through Social Health Insurance skyrocketed to IDR 10 trillion or equal to USD 656 million in 2022, and this upward trajectory persists in 2023,” Andriyanu said. “This financial strain highlights a clear imperative: we must consider the health toll of fossil fuels. To combat air pollution effectively, we must shift away from fossil fuels and pivot towards clean energy sources such as solar and wind. It is a crucial step to ensure a cleaner and healthier future across ASEAN countries.”

The group said one major obstacle to the clean energy transition is Japan’s dirty energy strategy for the region. Japan, one of the largest public financiers of fossil fuel projects, is a major backer of gas projects in Asia, along with fossil-based technologies that experts say prolong the use of coal-fired power plants. The Japanese government is also spearheading the “Asia Zero Emissions Community (AZEC)” and the “Asia Energy Transition Initiative (AETI),” initiatives they say support ASEAN partners’ decarbonization efforts.

However, the group said these initiatives include so-called false solutions to the climate crisis, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), fossil hydrogen, carbon capture and storage (CCS), and co-firing ammonia and biomass (wood pellets) at coal-fired power plants, which involve continued reliance on fossil fuels.

According to climate think tank TransitionZero, co-firing ammonia at coal-fired power plants in Southeast Asia at the most technologically viable rate will not cut emissions in line with the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2050 net-zero emissions target. Similarly, switching from coal to gas power plants globally will not reduce emissions enough to meet climate targets, says think tank Global Energy Monitor.

Beyond decarbonization goals, the group said energy security is a key reason why ASEAN member states must phase out their use of fossil fuels, including gas. According to energy experts, emerging Asian economies should avoid contracts that lock them into LNG, a fuel that has become more price-volatile after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.

Despite this, the joint statement released in August by the ASEAN Ministers on Energy Plus Three (China, Japan, Korea) encourages the deployment of these technologies, and emphasizes the role of LNG for energy security in the region.

“We urge ASEAN member states to strengthen their cooperation for a just energy transition. ASEAN must stand up against Japan’s dirty energy and false solutions strategy for the region. They must stop the expansion of gas energy in the region and the promotion of fossil-based technologies that only serve to legitimize continued fossil fuel extraction and use of coal-fired power plants,” said Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD) and convener of the Asian Energy Network’s “Don’t Gas Asia Campaign.”

In light of falling costs worldwide, experts say investing in solar and wind is the most cost-effective way to cut emissions, especially compared to technologies such as ammonia coal co-firing. Yet, ASEAN remains lagging on solar and wind compared to its peers. Currently, solar and wind supply make up less than 5% of the energy mix in a majority of ASEAN countries. Indonesia has one of the lowest levels of solar capacity installed, even though it avoided USD 10 million in fuel costs from January to June last year due to solar power.

“There is an alternative path that is aimed at ensuring universal access to basic energy needs of peoples and communities, as well as preventing climate catastrophe,” said Nacpil. “We demand a direct, swift, equitable and just transition to renewable energy systems.”


This is a joint press release from several organizations: Walhi, Greenpeace Indonesia, Trend Asia, Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development, Senik Centre, Friends of the Earth Japan, Asian Energy Network (AEN), and Don’t Gas Asia.

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