Saturday, April 26, 2014

Avoiding Pandora’s Box: ASEAN and energy cooperation

The Greek mythology talks about Pandora’s Box, which when opened released a host of evils and tribulations upon the earth.

The recently released report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provided a terrifying glimpse of a future (similar to a world where Pandora’s Box has been opened) if mankind fails to significantly curb the emission of climate-change inducing greenhouse gases and avert run-away climate change.

The latest IPCC report shows that the Asian region will be severely affected by a broad range of climate change impacts and the most urgent development challenge for ASEAN is how to avert run-away climate change and help its poor communities adapt to changing climate patterns.

Over the past decade, ASEAN had been busy, forging and strengthening economic ties with some of the biggest and fastest growing markets and economies in Asia, as it progresses towards the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. It hopes that increasing trade and facilitating investment relations with the rest of Asia will spur regional economic growth and help member countries attain their development objectives, which includes reducing hunger and poverty.

Asia, currently home to 4.3 billion people and to 900 million of the world’s poor, would be affected by climate change impacts including food and water scarcity, increased drought and floods, damage to coastal and marine systems, heightened danger of diarrheal diseases, dengue fever and malaria, and increased deaths and sickness in vulnerable groups due to more frequent and more intense heat waves.

Food insecurity, in a region where there are more than 563 million hungry people, will most likely worsen as rising temperatures lead to lower yields in rice — Asia’s staple food. And because agriculture continues to be an important source of food, income and livelihood to millions of poor families in Asia, damages to crops as a result of increased floods and droughts is expected to lead to loss of livelihood and deeper poverty.

In Southeast Asia, the specter of hunger looms even larger, as sea level rise endanger rice production along the Mekong River Delta. The IPCC report notes that Vietnam, one of the world’s largest producers and exporter of rice is in danger of having 7 percent of its agricultural lands submerged as a result of rising sea levels.

Rice production is also threatened by saltwater intrusion in Myanmar.

ASEAN can and must help avert this future. It needs to have a stronger voice and presence in the global climate talks. ASEAN has already established the ASEAN Climate Change Initiative (ACCI) a regional platform where it agreed to undertake active participation in negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Some ASEAN member states are already taking key roles in the climate talks. ASEAN needs to maximize the ACCI and encourage all its members to work together to ensure that the concerns and interests of the region are well represented and addressed in the ongoing negotiations.

ASEAN also needs to start developing regional programs that will allow it to voluntarily contribute to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, and help member states adapt to climate change. Adaptation that is complemented with mitigation measures are undoubtedly more effective in reducing the impacts of climate change.

ASEAN must start discussions on how to increase its renewable energy ambition in the next Plan of Action on Energy Cooperation as it prepares to become a common regional economy. Apart from contributing to stabilizing the global climate, renewable energy technologies offer economic benefits of fresh investments and job generation to the region.

The regional bloc should likewise intensify efforts to help its member states develop and share knowledge on how communities across Southeast Asia can prepare for climate change.

It should encourage its member states to invest in climate adaptation and to promote sustainable and agro-ecologically sound farming practices.

Yes, Pandora’s Box when opened can release a host of evils and tribulations upon the earth. But all is not lost, because from that same box also came hope.

In the same way, there is hope for mankind as it faces the future. It is still possible to stop climate change and reverse the specter of greater hunger, poverty, sickness and deaths.

ASEAN must help release and give life to this hope.

Damages to crops as a result of increased floods and droughts is expected to lead to loss of livelihood and deeper poverty.

The writer is Oxfam’s East Asia GROW policy and research coordinator

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