Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) and Civic Exchange (Hong Kong) co-organized the “Climate Change and Asia 2008: Risks, Opportunities and Policies” Public Conference. The half-day conference, held at Singapore Management University, was an effort to increase awareness on climate change and discuss the role of Asia in dealing with the issue. The event brought together experts from different parts of the world to share their views on the pressing topic of climate change in the Asian context.
In the opening remarks, Assoc. Prof. Simon Tay, Chairman of SIIA, and. Ms. Christine Loh, Co-founder and CEO of Civic Exchange, referred to the recent cyclone disaster in Myanmar as a reminder of what further climate change can do to the region. They explained that Asia should recognize tackling climate change as their responsibility and called for Asian governments and citizens to continue to engage in the issue and play a stronger role in the negotiations of the post-2012 climate change agreement. The conference was also intended to be one part of such effort to engage Asian citizens into thinking about climate change.
In the first session, “Environment and Energy: What’s happening to our world?”, the lead discussant, Prof. Thomas Heller, Special Advisor on Climate to the Secretary General of the United Nations and Professor of Stanford University School of Law, reminded the conference that climate change should be seen not only as a purely environmental problem; it is a broader developmental, economic and social problem. Asia, which would become the next battle ground of climate change, therefore needs to integrate climate change into its thinking about future growth. He also explained that climate change should not be seen only as a cost; it also brings opportunities. Prof. Heller stated that opportunities to create new businesses, opportunities to save scarce resources and money also come with tackling climate change. On the negotiations of the new agreements, he advocated for more effective and equitable agreements, which focus on more systematic market mechanisms, technology development and diffusion and increased energy efficiency worldwide.
The second session “Climate change and Asia: Understanding the urgency for action against climate change” featured Dr. Louis Lebel, Director of Unit for Social and Environmental Research from the University of Chiangmai, Thailand and Prof. Zhang Shiqiu from the College of Environmental Sciences, Peking University. Dr. Lebel first addressed the topic of “adaptation” and the potential adverse impacts of climate change to Asia. He called for Asian countries and citizens to think about how to increase adaptive capacity and resilience for the unavoidable effects of climate change. According to Dr. Lebel, the improvements in agricultural technology, disaster management, and water supply system are of importance in many countries in Asia. Later in the session, Prof. Zhang reminded the audience that Asia cannot follow the traditional path of growth and consumption, which used up a large amount of world resources and energy. She also pointed out that Asia still needs more political commitment to create effective climate strategies and policies.
In the third session, Prof Thomas Heller, Dr Roger Raufer of the International Environmental Trading Group and Mr Shigeru Sudo, Director of the Energy and Environment Program, International Development Center of Japan, discussed the topic of “Mechanisms to Address Climate Change - The political, economic and social context”. Mr. Sudo explained how Japan became arguably the most energy efficient country in the world. He cited the importance of Japan’s focus on research and development of new technologies and the mechanism to diffuse those technologies and make people and firms adopt them. Mr. Raufer then explained the role of carbon markets in the Asian context. He argued that market mechanisms are the most efficient and aggressive way to fight climate change, and therefore Asia should develop its own market with its own characteristics in mind. He also explained that Singapore, as a financial and business center of the region, could be a leader in the future of the Asian carbon market. Concluding the session, Prof. Heller cited five general strategies that Asia should adopt: 1) capture energy efficiency opportunity, 2) de-carbonize energy sources, 3) develop new technology, 4) preserve carbon sink and 5) change attitude of businesses and consumers.
At the closing of the conference, Assoc. Prof. Simon Tay and Ms. Christine Loh, again cited the need for Asia to accept its responsibility in dealing with climate change. They pointed out that Asia can do much more on both climate change mitigation and adaptation. The first step was to accept the problem and responsibility. They ended by reminding the audience that Asia does not need to sacrifice its economic growth to save the environment; the sustainable development path exists. As a responsible global player, Asia as a whole must continue to think and act on the important challenge from climate change.