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Climate change demands that Asean's future is cooperative

But to make this a reality, there is a 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, programms and projects.

There can be no possible argument against the Asean theme of low-carbon development.

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

Because Asean had no low carbon policies, a total of 43.6 million hectares were deforested in the main forest countries of the region between 1995 and 2005. The deforestation released about 3.45 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere 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, almost all regions of Cambodia, northern and eastern Laos, the metropolitan area of Bangkok, and south and west Sumatra, and west and east Java in Indonesia are considered hot spots for 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

In the last couple of decades, Southeast Asia has experienced delays in the rainy season in some areas, and extended monsoon in others, which disrupted the planting season and production in a region largely dependent on agriculture.

These effects of climate change pose a serious threat to both life and livelihood for most Southeast Asians, who are still considered poor and have very limited adaptive capacity. In this context, the call of the Asean chair for low-carbon development is timely and crucial.

To toe this line of development, Asean leaders should consider removing coal and oil subsidies while throwing their weight behind the development and expansion of renewable energy.

Climate change is an adversary that does not recognise borders, and so 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 on this development path, Asean governments should ensure provision of sufficient budgetary support for appropriate and community-driven climate adaptation initiatives to speed up climate resilience in the region. They also need to work with community and non-governmental organisations in the development and sharing of knowledge and best practice on climate adaptation.

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 will translate the theme and vision for low-carbon development into specific, measurable, accountable and relevant actions.

It is 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 will need more political support from the Asean leaders themselves to be able to function effectively.

Obviously, climate change is an issue that is bigger than these organisational or political concerns. It threatens the common future of Asean's people.

In its theme and vision, Brunei as country-chair of Asean this year, invites Asean leaders and citizens to think about the future, and take action to address climate change and track a low-carbon development path. We hope we will see this happen as the latest Asean Summit ends.

Zelda Soriano is policy advisor, Greenpeace Southeast Asia. zelda.soriano@greenpeace.org.


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