Asia’s response to ravages of climate change requires courage
The devastating effects of the rise in global temperatures have no regard for national boundaries. Sometimes the impact seems relatively benign, such as an early start to the spring cherry blossom season in Japan. Other consequences are much more severe. For example, floods in Bangladesh are affecting the livelihoods of more than ten million people, hindering the nation’s otherwise bright growth prospects.
Recognising the danger, many Asian nations are attempting to steer themselves along a sustainable development path. Singapore, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Laos have all been praised by the Asian Development Bank for their policies on the environment, including clean-water access and action on air-pollution levels.
Asia has enormous variations in climate, geography and economic development levels, so placing its countries in a league table for sustainability has limited value. Nevertheless, such comparisons can sometimes be useful in spurring governments towards purposeful action and offering insights into how each country might improve its approach.
However, there is only so much that individual states can do. The most meaningful way to combat the rise in global warming – and the impact of air and water pollution – is to follow an internationally agreed action plan, full of specific targets that can be satisfactorily assessed.
That was the enormous challenge set before the United Nations-led conference on climate change, which took place in Katowice in Poland last month. Almost 200 nations were represented, including delegates from every Asian country.
Many reported that they found the two-week meeting inspirational. They were able to connect with likeminded people from other nations who share similar goals. Political and territorial disputes, which have often prevented effective collaboration in Asia, were laid aside for the sake of the talks. In the process, insights were shared not just into the problems associated with climate change but also on possible solutions.
The UN Secretary General António Guterres celebrated the dialogue. ‘For those who doubt that we as human beings have the political will to make big change, just remember that political will itself is a renewable resource,’ he said.
The final day of the conference saw delegates talk all through the night as they struggled to reach consensus on crucial issues. In the end, the conference sought new deeper carbon cutting pledges from every country by 2020. This will place a heavy responsibility on China and India, which emit more CO2 than other countries in Asia.
China was criticised at the meeting for not providing reliable data on its emissions. In return, it requested more flexibility on the transparency rules for itself and developing countries.
The meeting also sought improvements to the complex system, based on market mechanisms, through which countries can buy ‘carbon credits’ from each other as a way of reducing emissions. While well-intentioned, the scheme has been tainted by fraud, leading its value to be called into question.
What nearly everyone at the meeting in Katowice agreed upon is that time is in short supply. The level of carbon emissions is rising, in large part due to economic growth in Asia. But it is also in Asia that the impact of the problems is being most keenly felt.
There are no simple solutions. The appropriate response is a robust action plan, one that will be effective beyond arbitrary national borders.