Curry: Covid-19, climate crisis and opportunities for Asean to be safer, stronger and greener

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The United States and Singapore announced important climate partnerships during the recent visit of US Vice President Kamala Harris to Singapore. The United States will work closely with Singapore to tackle climate change by leveraging the financial sector, collaborating to promote green building standards in ASEAN, and integrating climate and environmental sustainability into a long-standing agenda. between the two countries.

In Malaysia, Bank Negara Malaysia Deputy Governor Adnan Zaylani Mohamad Zahid said at the launch of the World Bank’s Islamic Trade Finance Report in Kuala Lumpur on August 23 that supply chain pressure by trading partners that demand sustainability preconditions to trade could cost $ 65.3 billion (RM273 0.8 billion) in annual export earnings at stake if Malaysia did not move towards a low carbon economy and resilient to climate change by 2025. survival.

These encouraging developments barely make the headlines as the country goes through endless political turmoil.

The climate crisis eclipsed

Indeed, the Asean celebrated its 54th birthday on August 8, but there is something to spoil the party. There is an alarming existential threat overshadowed by the raging Covid-19 pandemic that shows no signs of abating as the legitimacy of Myanmar’s military might continues to test the effectiveness of ASEAN.

The sixth report of the most scientifically informed assessment on climate change was released in early August by the Working Group I of the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) takes a look overwhelming for the planet.

Scientists now confirm that human actions have unequivocally caused the fastest global warming of the atmosphere, oceans and land in 2,000 years, and that each of the past four decades has been successively warmer than all of them. the decades leading up to it since 1850.

The borderless impact of climate change is already affecting all inhabited regions of the world. This year, July was the hottest month on earth on record, with extreme weather anomalies wreaking havoc in Canada, China, Germany, Turkey and Greece.

Produced by 234 authors from 66 countries and subsequently endorsed by 195 member governments, the IPCC report warns that we may be approaching the point of no return if drastic changes are not made.

Drastic measures are needed to reach the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius

The reduction of greenhouse gases is the only way to reverse this course towards disaster. This means a radical and complete overhaul of the energy landscape and the abandonment of fossil fuels.

The bad news is that the world’s actions have fallen short of global commitments. In fact, since the signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, global carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 60%, while ASEAN’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions are expected to increase by 140%. % between 2015 and 2040.

The International Energy Agency warns that the path to carbon neutrality by 2050 is narrow. To achieve the goals of the Paris agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 ° C and zero net by 2050, there are more than 400 drastic milestones that will have to be reached in 30 years.

Green agenda in Asean

All ASEAN member states are parties to the Paris Climate Agreement and have committed to a common goal of carbon reduction and neutrality by at least 2050.

The good news is that the green agenda is gaining momentum in various political discussions within ASEAN. The pillar of the Asean economic community that drives the region’s economic ambition is more actively adopting this program, which has long been nested under the pillar of the socio-cultural community of Asean.

In 2021 in particular, there was growing awareness and interest across the region. The public sector and political actors have started to push for green measures, reduced carbon footprint and more aggressive climate actions.

The Asian Development Bank rolled out the ASEAN Catalytic Green Finance Mechanism in 2019 to encourage private participation in green infrastructure projects and reduce the perceived high risk of such ventures through co-financing with public funding.

ASEAN is also in the process of finalizing a framework on the circular economy as one of the priority economic deliverables of the ASEAN Chair, Brunei; and the Asean Taxonomy Council is developing a multi-level Asean taxonomy for sustainable finance that will serve as a general guide for all member states.

In the private sector, large companies are the first to explore environmental, social and governance practices, investment standards, reporting and disclosure, as requests for foreign investment have led to the adoption of the green agenda.

Last chance to reset

The Covid-19 pandemic is seen as a last chance for a fundamental reset in our model of economic growth. As governments use fiscal policy tools for recovery, there is a window of opportunity for the green agenda to be mainstreamed in the areas of stimulus spending, the national budget, taxation, investment and green jobs.

CARI had submitted a list of 21 actions for a greener ASEAN to the current President of ASEAN, Brunei, outlining the short, medium and long term actions to be taken on the basis of four CARI guidance documents which found minimum climate change mitigation measures in 2020.

Short-term measures such as granting financial support to green businesses and allocations for green infrastructure; capacity building for the renewable energy sector; allocation for sustainable and resilient infrastructure to climate change; and the inclusion of green measures in government bailouts or loans have been proposed.

Other longer-term policy options such as the study and gradual introduction of carbon and environmental taxes; reform of fossil fuel subsidy programs; work towards a common minimum corporate tax standard for the region to increase the fiscal space needed for the climate agenda; and exploring the possibility of an ASEAN carbon market such as the EU Emissions Trading System are among the policy directions ASEAN should take.

Developed countries must lead by example

Basically, to get ASEAN to take the green agenda into account, developed countries must follow the rhetoric.

The collective pledge to jointly mobilize $ 100 billion a year by 2020 pledged by developed countries to meet the needs of developing countries has failed, and even the UN has urged developed countries to keep their pledge when a recent meeting.

It is not difficult to understand why countries such as China, Russia, India, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which depend on fossil fuels, have failed to agree on the wording of the major climate changes linked to the phasing out of coal and commitments to the 1.5 degree target at a recent G20. meeting in July.

UN Secretary General António Guterres called on G7 and G20 leaders to keep their commitments because countries are “far off the right track”. All eyes are now on the UN General Assembly in September to see if the UN can make substantial climate progress ahead of the 26th Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP26) to be held from October 31 to 12. November.

Asean development gaps and political economy are sentiments that must be sensitively taken into account when transitioning to a low carbon economy. Some may even view the politics of climate change with a lens of skepticism.

We can, however, count on the open-mindedness of ASEAN experts and policy makers who have generally shown a consensus on the fact that greener ASEAN is an objective that must be pursued in parallel with the recovery. economic, but not at the expense of economic stability. The question then is how to translate this openness into concrete actions.

ASEAN must not waste the opportunity offered by the pandemic to do so as governments inject budgetary spending to stimulate economic growth. Now is the time to mobilize the entire community so that this richly endowed region does not lose its luster.


Jukhee Hong is Executive Director, CARI Asean Research and Advocacy (formerly known as CIMB ASEAN Research Institute)


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