Winds of change: Asia as the new global leader in climate change?

Regan Suzuki argues that Asia-Pacific will take an increasingly important role in leading climate change negotiations as Western countries drag their feet.

If the global climate change discussions continue to stall, is there scope for a region to go it alone?

The geopolitical shift in power towards Asia has become somewhat of a cliché. But when it comes to one of the most pressing issues of our times, climate change, Asian countries really do seem to be stepping up where traditional global leaders are dropping the ball.

The rise of Asia is no illusion. While the emerging economies in the region account for less than 30 per cent of global GDP, in 2011 they contributed to nearly 60 per cent of global growth and will continue to do so throughout 2012.

With regard to environmental policy, renewable energy has taken on a life of its own in Asia. The photovoltaic cell market in China for example has surged more than fivefold over the past year. And when it comes to the forestry sector, results are no less impressive. As the Economist points out, while globally we see a net decline in forests, the trend is reversed in Asia-Pacific with China and India actually increasing national forest cover at annual rates of 1.6% and 0.5% respectively.

While the atmosphere surrounding international climate change negotiations in Durban and recently in Bonn seems to be growing stale, Asia-Pacific offers us a breath of hope.

In February, a group of regional experts met in the Philippines to discuss the implications of Durban for forests and climate change in Asia-Pacific. The questions asked and answers suggested have been compiled in Forests and Climate Change After Durban: An Asia-Pacific Perspective. The publication, to be launched at the ASEAN Social Forestry Network’s annual Conference in Cambodia (June 11, 2012), asserts that the Asia-Pacific region is defining a new role for itself as a committed leader in climate change discussions. Countries like China and India in particular have walked the talk and foregone business as usual in order to bring reluctant actors such as the United States to the table.

The stumbling blocks for Annex 1 countries have been embraced as opportunities for the region. Asia-Pacific has demonstrated little of the fierce industry resistance to emission cuts seen elsewhere and the issue of technology and knowledge transfer has been viewed as a valuable channel for South-South collaboration, with countries such as India excelling in areas such as remote sensing and forest monitoring.

Another important development noted by the experts was a surprising new openness by governments to participatory processes such as FPIC and an accepted role of indigenous peoples as a legitimate and influential stakeholder group. What has been condemned by civil society groups as a regressive weakening of the safeguards in Durban was recognized nonetheless as simplifying a thorny subject and increasing likely uptake by regional governments.

What does this mean for the global discussions and for Asia-Pacific? It bodes well. The experts and recent actions of regional governments suggest that they will continue to put pressure on recalcitrant parties to make meaningful commitments. And in the end, Asia-Pacific as a region will continue to move forward on progressive climate change policy while the West dithers about weighing the costs of potential short-term economic impacts. Leadership is desperately needed on the international stage and it is becoming increasingly clear from where it will come.  

Regan Suzuki is a Project Officer at RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests and Coordinator for REDD-Net Asia-Pacific.

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1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on Rivers & Beyond … and commented:
    Rightly said! And well captured. Thanks!


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