Posted on 02 September 2019
As the Amazon burned half a world away, Indonesia announced that it plans to spend $33 billion moving its centre of government from Jakarta
, threatened by sea-level rise and unsustainable water extraction. Meanwhile, the UN’s development arm in Asia released its latest report highlighting the worsening impacts of natural disasters in the region
, which threaten to reverse decades of economic and social progress, and outpace the ability of poorer countries to respond.
These developments vividly illustrate what the climate crisis means for the region. They come as Bangkok prepares to host the Asia-Pacific Climate Week
, starting today, convened by United Nations Climate Change. That event will provide an opportunity for governments to demonstrate how they propose to respond to the challenge of growing emissions in the region and adapt to the effects of global heating.
Certainly, the trajectory of emissions in Asia is heading in the wrong direction. The region accounts for some 40% of global emissions. In 2017, it was responsible for two-thirds of the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Energy Agency
. Specifically, emissions grew 1.7% in China, while they rose 3% across the rest of developing Asia, which includes India and Indonesia.
Much of that rise can be explained by growing demand in many Asian economies for coal, that most polluting of fossil fuels. Demand for coal climbed 2.9% last year, according to oil major BP, with much of that increase coming from economies in the region.
Paradoxically, Asia is also leading the charge towards renewable energy. China boasts the world’s largest fleet of wind and solar plants, and is the world’s largest exporter of clean energy technology
. India’s ambitious plan
to install billions of dollars-worth of renewable energy capacity is helping to cut the costs of renewable energy to the lowest in the region, and 14% below those of power from coal. Countries including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are spearheading the world’s next wave of offshore wind development
This illustrates the potential opportunities for the region presented by the global transition to clean energy. Not only is renewable energy becoming increasingly cost competitive, it also offers relief from the crippling air pollution that chokes the region’s cities: 18 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh
Asia-Pacific Climate Week is intended to encourage governments in the region to discuss how they can raise the ambition of the national emissions targets agreed in the run-up to the 2015 Paris climate talks. These targets are not equal to the task of holding global warming below 2°C, let alone the 1.5°C that scientists warn will be needed to avoid dangerous impacts on ecosystems and human society. Increasing ambition promises an economic dividend from cheaper, more secure energy, a health dividend from cleaner air, and a climate dividend from reduces the negative impacts that the region faces.
Asia is, of course, enormously diverse. Big, fast-growing, and high-emitting economies such as China, India and Indonesia have massive opportunities to profit from the transition to low-carbon models of growth. Rich countries such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore have the wealth to embrace new, clean technologies and help bring down their costs, and to adapt to the effects of climate change. But Asia is also home to some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries: Bangladesh, with its tens of millions of people at risk of sea-level rise, and small-island states who face disappearing beneath the waves.
Those countries need financial support, not only from rich western countries, but also from their wealthier peers in the region. Compensating poorer countries for the loss and damage they face from climate change needs to be placed on the agenda in Bangkok, and feature at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit in New York later in September. Equity demands that those people least responsible for the climate crisis, and destined to be most severely impacted by it, are given the help they need to adapt.
Fernanda de Carvalho is the global policy manager for WWF’s climate and energy practice. She is based in Brasilia, Brazil.