Green Energy Forum: to strengthen green activism in Myanmar (coalition- building, coordinated advocacy)

During a two-day session, the Green Energy Forum gathered many anti-coal and anti- big dams activists from all around Myanmar, in order to launch a joint statement “urging the Myanmar government to promote community-driven renewable energy solutions”. The main idea was to give the floor to local people, suffering problems from within, to share their experiences and promote dialogue on green alternatives. The result was then very innovative.

U Aung Myint opened the session highlighting the lack of politicians in the room. “It’s a shame, there is no one able to change laws in such a meeting,” he said. Indeed, if there were many national and international advocates, the Myanmar administration was not represented.

In a very participative way, people in the audience were asked to say and add what they want. After the panel discussion on “harmful impacts of coal and big dams”, someone talked about his own experience. He wanted to highlight the high level of corruption at every level of the society, and the lack of transparency. He related one meeting on mining business, where “a monk was monopolizing the discussion, in order to limit activists’ questions”. According to him, the monk in question had interests in some projects in Paung Laung.

In the same idea, two women ended the first day by delivering a plea on the need to campaign against big dams in Myanmar. They were dealing with very specific issues that they and their relatives are going through. They had been asked to move from their own village for the benefits of the Paung Laung project, “in a place where the river flow is too strong to live properly,” said Daw Lu Ra from Tan Phae.

Globally, everybody was asking for a more decentralized decision-making power. Khun Kyaw Swe, from Pa-O Youth Organization, reminded that for any energy project above 30 megawatts, local authorities have no competence. Hence, if an organization wants to launch a real process to electrify the country (with green energies), the framework needs to be changed at some points.

From MEE Net organization (involved in Cambodia, China, Lao, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar), Kyi Phyo started his speech with positive news that clearly improved the atmosphere that day. The Chinese government has just abandoned the Nu River Project, in the Southwestern province of Yunnan. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East”, the project aimed to build a 21.3 megawatts dam, and could have had harmful effects in the area (including Eastern Myanmar). “The project is not anymore in China papers!” he said. And this is indeed a victory for the southwest Asia Green Movement!

But why did China stop this project, they asked. Actually, the growing protest of the civil society is one of the explanations. But Kyi Phyo remained perfectly lucid. If they stopped, it’s also because their interests in the project declined. As a matter of fact, Yunnan is now getting energy sufficient. So producing more electricity would mean investing in transmission, which would raise the price of the electricity…

U Win Myo Thu, director of ECODEV, discussed of mini-grid solutions as something that the government should develop in the coming years. According to him, there are currently too many isolated areas from the national grid, where people are paying too much for a bad electricity system. To deeply modify this situation, he said, we need a big capital investment. “There should be a national renewable energy found, around USD 200 million”. He also called the Central Bank of Myanmar to work together with international and local banks.

From this two-day forum resulted a joint statement, signed by 422 organizations. It demands a “meaningful participation [of the signatories and, more generally, of the civil society] in the country’s energy plans“. It also calls for the government to abandon “plans to develop coal and big hydro projects that have clearly been rejected by affected communities.” After most of each session, the draft of the statement was projected on the wall, and everybody was asked to participate and modify it. They were literally discussing about words for dozens of minutes, and the result is now available.