Professor gives insight to energy’s rising costs


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Photo by Nelson Morales |

Edward Cunningham, director of the Harvard Kennedy School Asia Energy and Sustainability Initiative, outlines the contrasts between Chinese and Myanmar resource development. 


Through a comparison between Myanmar and China, Edward Cunningham, director of the Harvard Kennedy School Asia Energy and Sustainability Initiative, explained that energy development in certain communities could influence economies worldwide.

The lecture, hosted by the Rutgers Energy Institute and the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy on Monday, was the fourth in its series that aims to bring the global influence of energy to University students.

China, unlike Myanmar, has transitioned from an energy producer to a consumer, he said.

“This is a profound transition,” he said. “We are starting to see import tolerance. … China was a large coal exporter, and three years later was a large coal importer.”

China now produces half the global production of coal and is 90 percent energy self-sufficient, he said.

“It went from having 1 billion tons of coal to having 3.4 billion,” he said. “They look at the United States and see a country that was much more strategic and that has purchased many resources from others and not exhausted their own reserves.”

During the period when China was growing, the country was meeting its energy demand internally, Cunningham said.

But Myanmar’s exchange rate has not changed in more than 20 years because the military has a stronghold over the country’s gas reserves, said Cunningham at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences Building on Douglass Campus.

“It drives an obstacle for farmers … regardless of what you are producing, no one can afford it,” said Cunningham, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Environment at Boston University.

The government in Myanmar is low on natural resources although gas production has increased.  Myanmar is investing their future in gas off shore and oil on shore, Cunningham said.

“I think that energy is the ultimate stake,” Cunningham said. “China didn’t have a stake beforehand. It was, you build things and someone buys them. But it was clear that while the economy was dependent on the outside world, there are many different markets.”

He said students should care about the world moving toward a carbon-constrained community and globally.

“We are going to see a new player in the region we are seeing carbon growth. … Will they link consumers or will they be using hydro more effectively? To what extent will you be long-term stable?” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said the rising costs in China could affect the United States through driving inflation.

Robert Kopp, associate director of Rutgers Energy Institute, said the seminar series are held to bring a diverse group of speakers to the campus to talk about the impacts energy has on the world.

“It is as basic as: 'Why is energy important?'” Kopp said. “It includes a perspective on technology and policy. The seminars are events that bring together students and faculties.”

Edwin Chen, a Rutgers Business School junior, said he came to the event to learn about the imports and exports in China through the seminar.

— Yashmin Patel contributed to this story.


By Elizabeth Kearns

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