Abstract This article reviews and analyses the advancement of renewable sources of energy in Bangladesh and Thailand in terms of policy intervention and institutional settings. Since renewable forms of energy emit far smaller amounts of greenhouse gas compared with fossil fuels, their use should mitigate climate change impacts while contributing to the provision of energy services. The article turns first to a review of energy–environment trends and the potential for renewables in these two nations. It then discusses strategies for the advancement of renewables. It is argued that further significant efforts can be made towards the advancement of renewables in Bangladesh and Thailand. These two nations could also learn from the experience in industrialized nations and other developing nations with regard to requisite policy instruments and processes. A number of barriers remain to the advancement of renewables, especially in terms of policy arrangements, institutional settings, financing mechanisms and technologies. Resources, cooperation and learning are required in order to overcome such barriers and to foster the development of necessary policy measures. Implementation of the clean development mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol, and replication and adaptation of effective strategies from other settings are possible avenues for this.