Southeast Asia is a region highly vulnerable to near and long-term climatic changes. In order to jointly address emerging climate risks and to complement multilateral negotiations through enhanced regional cooperation, a more comprehensive climate diplomacy approach is needed. On 29 November 2013, more than 40 representatives from Southeast Asian foreign ministries and think tanks met in Singapore to discuss the potential next steps in this direction. The workshop was organized jointly by adelphi and the RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies. It is part of adelphi’s cooperation with the German Federal Foreign Office to explore climate diplomacy narratives in different regions to improve the prospects of international climate protection.
ASEAN member states are in various phases of development and have a differentiated approach to climate change. This should not stand in the way of joint action. ASEAN could provide a useful forum to consolidate climate policy related positions. Adopting a common but grand narrative of the opportunities of climate action can encourage coalitions among member states and/or regional partnerships. Action can build upon existing cooperation in ASEAN in areas such as disaster management and humanitarian relief, the forestry sector, and green technologies.
Foreign policy can catalyze action on climate change through regional cooperation. Concrete approaches with major opportunities in this regard could include:
• Improve cooperation on disaster management and relief. Southeast Asia is prone to disasters. An adequate response can reduce the enormous cost of lives and assets today and in the future. ASEAN cooperation on disaster management is leading the way, with a legally binding ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response already in place. Nevertheless, Typhoon Haiyan showed that emergency responses are not yet effective enough. ASEAN defence ministers could further solidify the implementation of the action plan for mobilizing the military for disaster management and relief.
• Strengthen multi-layered governance approaches in climate responses: With more than half of Asia’s urban population living in low-lying coastal zones that are highly vulnerable to climate change, cooperation can benefit from drawing on the needs and experiences of cities. There is a need to tap into existing initiatives and fora such as the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) or UN Habitat’s Cities and Climate Change Initiative (CCCI).
• Reap the benefits of green technologies: Southeast Asian countries are competitively vying for high growth rates, while at the same time experiencing the boundaries of unchecked economic expansion – be it health-threatening air pollution or difficulties in securing and managing natural resources. ASEAN cooperation on technology and innovation, such as the Advisory Body on ASEAN Plan of Action on Science and Technology (ABAPAST) and the Krabi Initiative, could highlight the co-benefits of green technologies. With tracks on energy and food security, disaster risk reduction and biofuels, it can foster opportunities for sustainable growth and should formulate pathways to overcome incentive gaps between short-term investment costs and long-term benefits, as well as between market prices and prices factoring in environmental externalities. These can feed into international cooperation.
Some countries will need to lead to create the necessary momentum. Myanmar is chairing ASEAN in 2014, and thus has the opportunity to bring ASEAN together to strengthen and promote climate diplomacy. The experience with international support in the aftermath of its devastating 2008 cyclone helped to establish trust and commitment to climate cooperation. Myanmar could table a document on climate change and disaster resilient societies at the ASEAN summit to build on and support the Singapore Declaration on Climate Change, Energy and Environment signed at the 3rd East Asian Summit in 2007. As a city state, Singapore is uniquely positioned to link regional climate governance across levels, integrating existing city networks and country-level cooperation. These are practical foundations and entry points for climate diplomacy in the region.
For more information on the Singapore workshop “Perspectives for Climate Diplomacy in Southeast Asia”, please see the documentation.
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