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On ASEAN Theme And Our Common ASEAN Future under Climate Change

Commentary/Contribution by Zelda DT Soriano & Norly Grace P. Mercado 






Country-chair Brunei Darussalam of the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN) asserts that the future of Southeast Asia is dependent on how the people work together to ensure progress for the development of the whole region. Thus, this year’s ASEAN theme is “our people, our future together”.

In forecasting the common ASEAN future, Brunei declares the present need for a development shift. Hj Muhammad Lufti Abdullah, Permanent Secretary for Administration and Finance at the Ministry of Development of Brunei, has said that a low carbon-based economy would “make us more resilient to unpredictable commodity and energy prices in an uncertain future world”. In his speech at the opening ceremony of the latest meeting of the ASEAN Working Group on Climate Change (AWGCC), he reminded his fellow ASEAN senior officers and experts that the shift should be seen as an opportunity for the region and urged that the principles of mitigation and adaptation to climate change should be mainstreamed into development plans, programs and projects.

There could be no possible argument against the ASEAN theme or low-carbon development.

With business-as-usual while gearing for economic integration, the expansion of energy supply infrastructure would increase ASEAN’s share of global energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions by 5% by 2030 up from 3.5% today.  In terms of energy use, ASEAN’s final energy consumption will grow at an annual average rate of 4.4%, from 375 million tonnes of oil equivalent (MTOE) to 1,018 MTOE, according to the Institute of Energy Economics Japan.

Without low carbon policies, between 1995 and 2005, a total of 43.6 million hectares were deforested in the main forest countries of the region. The deforestation released about 3.45 million tonnes of carbon according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Globally, without drastic reductions in CO2 emissions, the scientific consensus is that the earth’s temperature could rise by as much as six degrees Celsius by the end of the century. This could lead to a potentially irreversible catastrophic scenario.

Given the bounded geography, climactic similarities, common ecological features and other observable shared natural characteristics, the ASEAN countries are destined for a common future under the climate change regime. The Philippines, the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam and almost all regions of Cambodia, north and east of Lao PDR, the metropolitan area of Bangkok, South and West Sumatra, West and East Java of Indonesia are considered hot spots to climate change impacts. Most endangered is Jakarta as this densely populated city lies at the intersection of all but one of five climate-related hazards—droughts, floods, landslides and sea level rise. [International Development Research Centre’s Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia]

In the last couple of decades, Southeast Asia has experienced delays in rainy season in some parts, and extended monsoon in others that disrupted the planting season and production in a region largely dependent on agriculture [documented observations by Dr. Tun Lwin, climate expert from Myanmar].  Such climate change impacts have proven severely threatening for the life and livelihood of most Southeast Asians who are considered poor and have very limited adaptive capacity.

In this context, the call of the ASEAN chair for a low-carbon development is timely and crucial.

To tow this line of development, ASEAN leaders should consider removing coal and oil subsidies while throwing their support for the development and expansion of renewable energy. As climate change is an adversary that does not recognise borders of nations, ASEAN leaders must look into adopting trans-boundary initiatives aimed at addressing cross border climate change issues. One such initiative could be the development of a tool for a trans-boundary environmental impact assessment system in the region.

To stay in this development path, ASEAN governments should stabilise provision of sufficient budgetary support for appropriate and community-driven climate adaptation initiatives to speed up the enhancement of climate resilience in the region. They also need to work with community and non-governmental organisations in the development and sharing of knowledge and learning on the best climate adaptation practices.

And because this kind of development is only possible with a supportive global supply and demand market, technology transfer, and international financial support, ASEAN must contribute its voice for a fair, ambitious, and binding climate deal in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC is where the world’s governments negotiate how to address the climate crisis at the global level.

The crucial question for Brunei and the rest of ASEAN, however, is how they would translate the theme and vision for low-carbon development into specific, measurable, accountable and relevant actions.

It is a common knowledge that ASEAN deals with many organisational and political challenges to be able to act with unity and in a decisive and strategic manner to address cross-border issues such as climate change.  Although there are inter-governmental semi-permanent committees, working groups, agencies and centres with multi-sectoral and inter-country cooperation plans and platforms,  they would need more political support from the ASEAN leaders themselves to be able to function effectively.

For obviously, climate change is an issue that is bigger than these organisational or political concerns. It threatens the common future of ASEAN people.

In its theme and vision, Brunei as country-chair of ASEAN this year, invites ASEAN leaders and citizens to engage in thinking about the future, and undertake actions needed to address climate change and track a low-carbon development path. We should see this happening in the ASEAN Summit this week.

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