David Fogarty, climate change editor at The Straits Times, claims in his September 16 column that a recent survey shows the majority of people in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) want to move away from fossil energy.

Even a perfunctory review of the survey at issue, however, reveals that no such claim is warranted.

The ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute survey Mr. Fogarty cites drew responses from an exceedingly narrow subset of the ASEAN population—one that cannot be said to represent the region as a whole.

The first problem with the set of respondents is national representation. As indicated on page 8 of the report, despite the populations of Indonesia and Vietnam accounting for more than half of the total ASEAN population, respondents from the two countries made up only a combined 21.7 percent of those surveyed. Meanwhile, a shocking 20 percent of respondents were Singaporeans, despite Singaporeans making up less than one percent of the ASEAN population.

The national tilt was paired with a related skew towards respondents with elite educational credentials—and, presumably, corresponding incomes. As page 9 shows, over 90 percent of the survey’s respondents have completed at least bachelors’ degrees and nearly a quarter have completed doctoral degrees. The population-wide education levels across ASEAN differ by an order of magnitude from the education levels of the survey’s respondents. In Indonesia, for example, just 12 percent of 25-64 year-olds have attained an educational credential beyond high school and less than one in ten thousand Indonesians has earned a doctoral degree.

By presenting the survey data as representative of the region, Mr. Fogarty elides a stark divide.

The world over, those in higher educational and income strata tend to favor more intensive climate policies than do those struggling to enter, or to maintain status within, the middle class, as are many people in the ASEAN countries. This dynamic can be seen most evidently in France, where a 2018 fuel tax increase sparked the Gilets Jaunes movement to oppose policies seen as beneficial to elites and punitive to the working classes.

Before asserting a widespread regional attitude toward climate policies in ASEAN, we need survey data that incorporates the perspectives of the hundreds of millions of people across Southeast Asia who are poised to ascend to more prosperous lives, but who are also dependent on affordable energy to do so.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the many people in Southeast Asia who are on the brink of middle class life and the energy trends their economic ascent portends for National Review and here in the IER commentary section.

As I described at NR:

The World Bank reports that in Indonesia alone, 115 million people are poised to enter the middle class. This population, which it calls the “aspiring middle class” (AMC), is distinguished from the poor as well as the economically secure. As Indonesia’s AMC reaches the middle class, it will spend increasing sums on durable, energy-intensive goods such as refrigerators, automobiles, air conditioners, and water heaters. Since 2002, middle-class consumption in Indonesia has increased by an astonishing 12 percent annually.

And continued at IER:

Across all of ASEAN, WEF projects that there will be a regional near-doubling of high- and upper-middle income households, which currently number 30 million.

These economic and demographic trends indicate that the region’s energy consumption will rise. Because coal, oil, and natural gas are the region’s dominant fuel sources, emission will rise as well.

At this time, Indonesia, the region’s largest country, gets about three quarters of its energy from fossil fuels; the Philippines, the second largest, gets about two-thirds of its energy from fossil fuels; and Vietnam, the third largest, gets more than four-fifths of its energy from fossil fuels, with 44 percent coming from coal alone.

More energy from alternative sources like solar will surely factor into the region’s future, but as the region gets richer its demand for electricity will likely outpace those additions. According to the International Energy Agency, the region’s electricity demand will double in the next twenty years. Despite the desires of the narrow subset of ASEAN citizens the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute surveyed, fossil fuels will fuel that rise.

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