Energy System Lead Emi Gui has been working with officials from ASEAN member states to enhance their knowledge of low-carbon energy transitions.

Emi, you say in your career you have adopted a philosophy of ‘going with the flow’, can you speak some more about that?

Dr Emi Gui
Dr Emi Gui

Going with the flow stems from my love of the environment and nature, and in tune with the ancient oriental wisdom – always in harmony with nature.

My love of freedom and travel is what has led me to my many career choices. Living and exploring is important to me, and it means my career is connected to my passion for the environment.

I’m old enough to be of a generation to understand the difference in how the environment actually evolved and deteriorated over time because of human intervention.

I grew up in China and still remember when I was really little everything was so clean.

We had a spring around where we all played, and suddenly one day everything changed. Someone built a chicken farm upstream of the river. All the clean water disappeared because of the industrial wastewater.

At the same time, everyone’s life got better too, because of a growing economy. But I could see the difference in our living environment, how it changed.

Suddenly your playground, it’s no longer there. Unsustainable development – it’s a huge impact for the kids.

At Climateworks your work is increasingly focused on ASEAN energy transitions. What first focused you on that opportunity?

I look out for opportunities, especially where there is the potential for longer term relationship and impact.

The opportunity came up to work with the ASEAN Centre for Energy (ACE) when I was part of the Climateworks international team and then with the Australian Government’s Partnership for Infrastructure initiative. And we have gone from there, and now just continuing on the journey, working closely with our regional partners, policy makers and decision makers, to hopefully make a difference in Southeast Asia’s energy transition.

Having worked in many countries and energy contexts including in Australia, the Asia-Pacific and Europe, how do you see the energy transition playing out in these different parts of the world?

There are differences, but I think what stays similar at the core of energy transitions everywhere is technology. And the technology is less context-dependent.

Six well-dressed people smile at the camera.
Emi Gui (second left) and colleagues at the Heads of ASEAN Power Utilities/Authorities and PT PLN (Persero) environment, social, and governance (ESG) seminar in Jakarta, Indonesia for Earth Day 2023.

Of course, each region is at a different maturity level in terms of energy markets and how they would choose and best implement technology, how they adopt technology in different regions. But fundamentally, the technologies are the same.

What is most different is the market readiness and a country’s financial and human capacity to implement technology change, and the policy and planning side, in terms of which path they choose.

There are lots of cross-learning opportunities across regions.

That’s why the work we’re doing with the Council of Engineers for the Energy Transition is quite important, because it’s a global cohort that we are part of, and we have the chance to contribute and learn from experts specialised in different technologies and lessons from different regions.

It allows us to each compare notes to understand what has worked, and what hasn’t. We are facing a global problem. It’s not just one region. We are working together to collectively solve it.

You recently travelled to the United Nations in New York with the Council of Engineers for the Energy Transition (CEET) to meet with the UN Secretary-General António Guterres. What was that experience like?


Well, it was a very short meeting! But we spent a solid 20 minutes with him.

We could see his determination to tackle all the toughest issues, you know, around sustainable development, around energy transition.

Our purpose to meet the Secretary-General was to brief him on what the CEET has been doing and to seek guidance from him on the most urgent issues to be addressed.

Twenty-three people stand behind a curved wooden desk with blue electronic name plates.
Dr Emi Gui (front row, second from left) and fellow members of the Council of Engineers for the Energy Transition meet with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres (front, centre) in New York.

The meeting happened alongside the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, where I was able to speak about engineering approaches to help us to scale the clean energy transition.

Together with engineers from all over the world – all remarkable experts on technologies and energy systems – we took the chance to explain the opportunities in different markets and regions that could really make a positive contribution to what the UN system itself is already doing on the ground.

Our group included 45 experts from top energy institutes and companies, many are professors with over 30 years research and field experience from around the world, to name a few, Columbia, Cornell and MIT and many others.

We happened to be a group of mostly women in the photo. It shaped the meeting in some ways, because there are definitely gender aspects to the energy transition, especially if you’re looking at developing economies.

For example, clean cooking is directly related to women’s lives. I think there are over two billion people still without clean cooking, which mostly affects women’s health, and the health of the next generations, that needs to be urgently addressed together with rural electrification.

Your daughter is very young, and travelled with you to the UN this month, and also to the COP27 climate talks last year. What do you think she made of it all?

A young girl smiles and gives the peace sign, standing beneath a sign reading 'Climate Action Stage'.
Emi’s daughter at COP27 in Egypt. (Emi Gui)

I’m based in Melbourne and without much family around, my daughter comes everywhere with me.

I have been lucky, because she is very easy. At her age, she can’t realise how important the people who she is meeting are, or how their work and decisions are going to affect the future, and her generation.

She understands that we need to make the planet happy and is conscious of the environment. I also hope she can become the next generation of engineers to change the world we live in for the better.

What gives me hope is that I think there are enough people now who realise the seriousness of what we’re facing.

This is great because we’re all here together and in this together, and we need to pool our best minds and pool all our resources to tackle the climate crisis. Otherwise, what kind of world are we going to be leaving for the next generation?

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