Asean students call on governments in region to 'teach' energy efficiency

University students offer new ideas at Hitachi young leaders initiative

University students from seven ASEAN countries have called on their respective governments to introduce energy-consumption courses from the primary education level up, as a long-term solution to the region's energy problems.

The students, chosen for their leadership qualities, presented their ideas during the 12th Hitachi Young Leaders initiative (HYLI), which was held in Bangkok from July 1 to July 5. The programme brought together 28 university students from Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan. The participants were selected from more than 200 applicants.

Many of the young participants raised concerns about growing energy consumption in their region, and thus pushed for the idea of educating children from a very young age about energy efficiency. Some of them also suggested that people must learn to rely more on renewable energy sources. "The media can also help," one of them said.

First launched in 1996 in Singapore, HYLI was designed to encourage young adults to discuss and exchange their opinions about ASEAN. It also aims to identify and nurture potential Asian leaders and offers them a unique platform to broaden their regional and global outlook - while promoting Asian values and cross-cultural understanding.

During this year's five-day programme, the 28 participants engaged in a variety of activities including discussions on "Leadership in the Global Economy" and the "Driver of ASEAN Competitiveness".

Misako Nagakawa, a Master's degree student of East Asia Politics at the University of Tokyo, believes ASEAN countries have the potential to change the world if they are united. She also said an economically strong ASEAN would have benefits for her country.

"ASEAN countries are very friendly with Japan. They are willing to include Japan," she said, "We can cooperate."

Because young HYLI participants believe the region's economies will continue to grow, they see the need to address energy issues too. While technology can allow relevant organisations to generate more energy, they warned that energy-generation projects often carried social and environmental ramifications.

They also emphasised that consumers should embrace eco-friendly products, use private vehicles less and increase their use of public transportation.

"We could lower public-transportation fares to attract more users," one student suggested. Another participant said the government should also introduce laws and regulations that encourage the efficient use of energy.

During the discussion, students also urged their governments to provide young people in the region with more information about the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). The AEC will begin in 2015 when 10 ASEAN nations will become a single market - offering huge business and investment opportunities.

The students also said they believed small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in their home countries would be able to better tap into overseas markets once the AEC was established. However, they emphasised that government agencies in each country should provide assistance and equip entrepreneurs with knowledge of socio-cultural nuances, laws and regulations, and an overview of potential target markets.

"Government agencies should take care of both local and foreign SMEs. For locals, make them understand that the AEC will bring changes and that they need to prepare for these changes. For foreign SMEs, help them understand the business climate and relevant regulations" a student said on the discussion forum.

Another student suggested that an organisation be established to co-ordinate assistance for SMEs from both the private and public sectors. "The organisation should also arrange multilateral financing agreements," she said.

Masahide Tanigaki, senior vice president of Hitachi, described the 12th HYLI as a success. "Through open and constructive dialogue we will see at the end of the event recommendations from our students regarding some of the difficult challenges facing ASEAN" he said.