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Issues & Insights Vol. 21, WP 12 — Strengthening Regional Energy Governance in the Mekong Subregion


This paper explores the energy trilemma problems in the Mekong subregion and explains the necessity for regional energy governance. The current governmental cooperative mechanisms are an ineffective approach to regional energy governance in the Mekong subregion and should thus be strengthened.

Countries of the Mekong subregion are facing the following energy trilemma: energy security, energy poverty, and environmental sustainability problems. This paper argues that regional energy governance is needed in the Mekong subregion because the energy trilemma has transboundary externalities on the Mekong ecosystem and requires regional cooperation to be managed effectively. Effective regional energy governance is based on three components: coordination,general norms, and consideration of the regional context. The existing mechanisms for governance in the subregion are lacking these elements.

This paper concludes with three policy recommendations. First, it is necessary to enhance coordination among the subregional mechanisms. By exploring mutual benefits to raise incentives for cooperation and by seeking third-party engagement, more effective coordination may be realized. Also, information sharing may be a way to enhance the mechanisms’ transparency and improve coordination. Strengthened information sharing will enable other subregional mechanisms to understand the scale of the mechanisms’ proposed investments and their impact on the whole subregion, as well as provide potential opportunities for cooperation. Second, it is essential to develop norms and standards for the optimal management of natural resources for energy-related activities. Developing norms and standards may keep nations from choosing norms that benefit themselves but not the whole subregion.

Finally, considering the context of the region is important, especially whether the actors share a largely homogeneous ecosystem. If actors in a geographical space share a largely homogeneous ecosystem, considering the negative impacts of transboundary externalities, they will be more willing to make compromises and cooperate to manage the energy trilemma. This paper assesses the engagement of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and indicates that the lack of sharing a largely homogeneous ecosystem between mainland Southeast Asia and maritime Southeast Asia has weakened ASEAN engagement in solving the energy trilemma in the Mekong subregion. However, ASEAN should still increase its participation in the Mekong subregion’s energy sector. This would complement its efforts to push forward regional power integration plans such as the “ASEAN Power Grid,” “ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint,” and “ASEAN Master Plan 2025.”


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