Feb 21, 2009

Asia needs to change climate policy game

SINGAPORE: Asia needs to wake up to the threat of global warming and take a leading role in climate change negotiations or risk having rich nations dictate policies to curb carbon emissions, a leading policy expert said on Friday.
Simon Tay, Schwartz Fellow of the U.S.-based Asia Society said, the current UN climate negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol had become bogged down because of deep differences between rich and poor nations on how to fight climate change.
‘My impression is that it has become a dialogue between the deaf and the dumb,’ he told a conference on sustainability in Singapore.‘When we look at the Kyoto regime it cannot seem to work just because it is limited to only Annex 1 developed countries,’ said Tay, who is also chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
Under Kyoto’s first phase, only 37 industrialised nations are committed to cutting emissions by an average of about 5 percent from 1990 levels between 2008-2012.Nearly 200 nations will meet at the end of the year to try to seal a broader agreement to replace Kyoto and bind big developing nations and the United States to emissions curbs.
The new deal is due to be wrapped in Copenhagen by December but is at risk of failure because poorer nations won’t commit to emissions curbs unless rich countries do much more to rein in carbon pollution and pay for adaptation and the transfer of clean-energy technology.
On Friday, U.N. climate panel chief R.K. Pachauri told Reuters a deal placing a strict emissions regime on rich nations was likely in Copenhagen despite pressures to dilute the climate fight in times of a global financial slowdown.
But developing nations now emit more than half of mankind’s greenhouse gas pollution, the Global Carbon Project says in its latest report.
‘No matter how deep the cuts are in the developed world, no matter how much they try to mitigate climate change, every good thing that is done there could easily be offset, and more, by rapid unsustainable growth in Asia,’ Tay said.
Asia has three of the world’s top 5 emitters of greenhouse gases: Japan, India and China, with the latter widely believed to have surpassed the United States as the top carbon polluter.
Tay said Asian governments needed to better assess the threats of climate change and understand that they did not have to choose between development or tackling global warming.
‘Unless Asia gets its act together and starts changing the game we will be dictated to by the developed countries once America comes on board,’ he said, using the image of mediaeval lords telling peasants what to do.
President Barack Obama has spoken of a ‘planet in peril’ and says he will cut US emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. He also aims to cut emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
Tay said regional governments needed to look beyond national interests. ‘We need to encourage more and more states to see that their national interests and the global concerns aren’t necessarily against each other.’ People in Asia also needed to understand climate change was not a distant threat.
‘For too many people the perception of climate change is the grandfather clock. It’s a long time coming,’ he said. ‘Whereas the emerging science is of the stop-watch, thatchanges need to be happening now.’ He also said governments need to change the mindset that linked growth with burning fossil fuels, saying the region was locked in a triangle between growth, energy and carbon.
One solution was to create a global cap-and-trade scheme for carbon emissions based on per-capita pollution, Shreekant Gupta of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, told the conference.
He said the Kyoto process was flawed because it involved too many nations and should focus on a deal between the big emitting nations. A deal should also focus on transferring wealth to poorer nations by allowing them to sell excess emissions rights.
‘A global deal on climate change is about income transfer. There needs to be some hard-bargaining about money,’ he said.

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