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Mitigation of global warming and Southeast Asia’s transboundary haze: the issue of accountability

Updated On: Mar 02, 2007

Policy action has been brisk since the advent of a new wave of global warming studies such as the Stern Review and the more recent Fourth Assessment Report (Phase One).

According to former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern, and Stern Review author of the economic impact of climate change, China and the United States – both currently most accountable to the world’s carbon emission levels – are key to tackling the climate crisis, and must start giving each other credit for it.

As Stern explains, “if the United States will recognise that China is moving and if China will recognise that the United States is moving...then you can have that kind of discussion,” especially to build up the post-2012 Kyoto Protocol regime, in terms of scope and membership.

Noting current sentiments of resent from developing countries (including China) especially towards the issue of accepting limits on greenhouse gas emissions however, Stern expressed correctly that, “They say ‘you guys stuck it all up there...and now you are asking us to solve your problems.’” This was the case at the recent G77 meeting, when its head, also Pakistan's permanent representative to the United Nations, Munir Akram, said that developing countries are not prepared to take the blame for climate change – stalling post-2012 Protocol talks.

“Most environmental degradation that's happened has been historically caused by the industrial world,” he explained. “China, India and others are at the stage where they are now taking off and it's quite natural that their emissions of carbon are increasing...There's a sort of propaganda effort to try to shift the blame for environmental degradation on to these fast-growing economies, and the motives are not very well disguised.” The G77 subsequently issued a statement defending their stance: “The developing countries contribute the least to environmental degradation but are affected the most.”

The contentious accountability issue has plagued the current diplomatic progress on climate change.  The US which did not participate in the Kyoto Protocol and the European Union which remain in the pact wanted the developing countries to be included in a second phase treaty.  The latter would be discussed at a UN climate change meeting in Bali in December this year.    

On the related issue of accountability and climate change, the 12th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Haze (AMMH) met – the third time since the 1997/8 worst episode – on March 1 in Brunei to discuss the financial rules for the ASEAN Transboundary Haze Pollution fund. The meeting will be a prelude to the Second Conference of Parties (COP) to the ASEAN Agreement On Transboundary Haze Pollution held on the following day.

Chaired by Brunei Development Minister Pehin Orang Kaya Hamzah Abdullah Begawan Mudim Bakar, the meeting will also be deliberating on the planning and preparation for the establishment of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for the Transboundary Haze Pollution Control. Other priorities include reviewing the updates on the regional weather conditions and climates for the upcoming months, as well as strengthening the capacity of the ASEAN Specialized Meteorological Centre (ASMC) based in Singapore.

Each member country presented their reports on the progress of their respective national haze action plan besides their ongoing preventive, monitoring and mitigation activities. The spotlight is on Indonesia, which is seeking sufficient funds to implement its comprehensive plan, which includes reaching out to thousands of farming communities in Sumatra and Kalimantan, and a more ambitious plan of halving the number of forest fires.

Dr Yaccob Ibrahim, Singapore Water Resources and Environment Minister, in explaining Singapore’s approach of adopting a particular regency and working closely with the local authorities at the ground level to tackle the haze problem, explains that “if we are able to develop the plan and get local ownership quickly - that means building capacity at the local area - I think over the long run we are confident we can reduce the problem. In the short term I think we have to be very realistic - there are gaps especially in terms of capacity - funding is a major concern.”

A promising development comes from a greater willingness on the part of ASEAN member states to learn from each other to address Southeast Asia’s carbon emission contribution through the transboundary haze pollution problem. Malaysia for example, plans to “go along” with Singapore’s regency adoption plan in Indonesia. According to Azmi Khalid, Malaysian Natural Resources & Environment Minister, “I think they've gone quite ahead and we are looking at what they are doing, and the model they're doing is very suitable and very interesting and we will join with them.”

Sources:

Developing countries stand: It is not our fault (Straits Times, 1 March 2007)

Developing nations hit back on climate change (Reuters/The Straits Times, 28 February 2007)

Climate expert urges China, US to talk on warming (Reuters/The Straits Times, 28 February 2007)

Indonesian government confident it can halve number of forest fires this year (Channel News Asia, 28 February 2007)

Southeast Asian Officials Meet To Discuss Haze Action Plan (Dow Jones, 1 March 2007)

ASEAN Environment Ministers To Discuss Haze Pollution Fund (Bernama, 1 March 2007)