Australia, Thailand tackle water, energy

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Management of water and energy resources is a national priority for both Thailand and Australia. AFP

Effective management of water and energy resources is a national priority for both Thailand and Australia.

Covid-19 has made many countries more vulnerable to pre-existing threats such as floods, drought and energy insecurity. Part of the answer must be to better manage our precious freshwater and energy resources.

The two countries are entering a new era of partnership on water and energy, to help drive sustainable post-Covid recovery.

Water – a reform journey we can take together

In recent years both Thailand and Australia have embarked on water reform journeys. Under the guidance of the Office of National Water Resources (ONWR), Thailand has made significant progress by passing the Water Resources Act 2018 and adopting the 20-year Water Resources Management Strategy.

The Chao Phraya Basin is fundamental to Thailand’s prosperity. Through the ONWR and Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, we have been exchanging experiences in building national and international water information systems.

Looking ahead, our cooperation may expand to include sharing experiences on sustainable water diversion limits, water accounting, and regulating water demand. Together with exploring ways to increase the efficiency of water delivery and use on farms and in cities, this will help to sustain the productivity of the Chao Phraya going forward.

These valuable technical exchanges will be endorsed by the signing of a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding on water cooperation later this year.

Energy – on a path to transition

Like water, energy is a vibrant space to enhance our bilateral and regional cooperation. Harnessing the best of our natural resources will help us develop efficient energy systems.

We have seen stunning technological advances in the past decade. Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, recently presented a compelling vision for an “electric planet” – powered by low-carbon generation, with a reliable and efficient electricity system available to all.

Thailand is an ASEAN leader in this space with a strong focus on renewable energy. Australia wants to work closely with Thailand as we navigate this transition together.

Australia’s National Electricity Market operates on one of the world’s longest inter-connected power systems, stretching over 5,000km in eastern Australia. According to the Australian Energy Market Operator, by 2042 Australia’s electricity market could rely on the renewable quartet of wind, solar, hydro and storage for 96 per cent of its energy.

A transformation is underway, with Australia’s renewable energy growing at a per capita rate 10 times faster than the world average. Given Thailand’s unique geography, the lessons Australia is now applying with distributed energy systems and micro-grids are relevant here too.

Also on the horizon is hydrogen, as a means to carry clean energy from one continent to another. Hydrogen could provide a viable alternative for long-haul trucks, trains and ships – of clear interest to the transport sectors in both our countries.

Collectively, there is a lot of transformative potential in our energy sectors and great potential to work more closely together.

As an island continent, Australia has no land border with another country. Our natural resources, such as rivers, are internal. But we know that equitably managing water and energy to meet the needs of communities, industry and the environment is no easy task.

Water and energy – beyond national boundaries

Thailand and the countries of the Mekong sub-region face a more difficult scenario. The mighty Mekong River flows across national boundaries, as do other major rivers in the region. A river ties together all those who live along it, and any actor that can control the flow of a river can help or harm their riparian neighbours. This puts a premium on transboundary cooperation, transparency and information-sharing.

The Mekong is the lifeblood of the communities that live alongside it. It is not just a source of freshwater and fish, or a way to transport people and goods, or a means to capture and distribute energy. It has deep and enduring cultural value, and is held sacred by riverside communities who regard it as their “mother”. To survive, they depend on the river’s health – which numerous recent independent reports have shown is in crisis.

Drawing on our experiences managing rivers, Australia stands with Thailand as an ally in helping to manage the vital yet increasingly fragile Mekong River system.

That is why we are a development partner of the Mekong River Commission, the only treaty-based, transboundary, intergovernmental organisation with a mandate to equitably manage the river system.

That is why Australia strongly supports Thailand’s reinvigoration of the Ayeyawady-Chao Praya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS), a cooperation framework involving the five Mekong Southeast Asian countries – and we were the first country to become an ACMECS development partner in June last year.

That is why Australia has been working with Mekong countries since the 1990s to improve water, food, energy and environmental security across the subregion. This partnership programme has recently commenced its next $50-million, eight-year phase.

Australia stands with Thailand as a partner you can trust, facing many of the same challenges. We are committed to further strengthening our water and energy partnerships, now and in the years ahead.

Allan McKinnon is the Australian ambassador to Thailand

THE NATION (THAILAND)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK