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The View From Asia

Governments must walk the talk to save the earth - and lives

With the Paris Agreement now signed and sealed, the question is how serious countries will be about putting their pledges into action. Columnists from Jakarta to Kathmandu to Seoul air concerns about the environment.

New climate chapter

Andhyta F. Utami, Arief Wijaya and Almo Pradana

The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

"As a country that hosts one of the largest forests in the world, Indonesia has decided to become part of the solution," President Joko Widodo said in his speech at COP 21 in Paris last December. Indonesia committed unconditionally to reducing its emissions by almost a third (29 per cent) from a 2030 business-as-usual scenario, or by up to 41 per cent if certain international assistance was made available. On April 22, the historic Paris Agreement was signed in New York, cueing the world's sixth-largest emitter to start walking the talk.

Ahead of this signing, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya made a statement about how Indonesia's Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) should be an enhanced and a more ambitious version of the climate goal submitted to the United Nations, known as the INDC, or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). To realise her vision, Indonesia needs to ensure that there is strong national ownership of the task.

While recent analysis pointed out that 21 countries managed to decouple economic growth from emissions in 2000 to 2014, Indonesia has yet to identify the national road map for getting there.

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaking at the signing ceremony for the Paris deal at the UN on April 22. Drastic cuts in greenhouse gases are a must for limiting global temperature rise to well below 2 deg C.
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaking at the signing ceremony for the Paris deal at the UN on April 22. Drastic cuts in greenhouse gases are a must for limiting global temperature rise to well below 2 deg C. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

There are four things we can be certain about regarding Indonesia's climate action:

• Land and energy sectors serve as the backbone of mitigation efforts. Land-based and energy- based emissions contributed up to 90 per cent of Indonesia's total greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 and are responsible for that much of its projected emissions in 2030. That said, contrary to popular belief that Indonesia should prioritise its forestry sector, safeguarding both these sectors in parallel is vital for accomplishing the country's climate goals.

• transformation of our energy sector. An analysis of emission reduction targets in each sector by the National Development Planning Agency shows that most additional emission reductions in the conditional scenario will be energy-based. The establishment of the Centre of Excellence for Clean Energy, that seeks to accelerate and facilitate clean-energy initiatives while greening the current electricity grid, is an important milestone. The fact that 50 million Indonesians live with limited or no access to modern energy services provides an opportunity to shift towards renewable energy while addressing the urgent challenge. Shifting to more mini-grid and off-grid renewable energies in Indonesia's most remote areas, while optimising energy mix modelling, should be done immediately.

• Meanwhile, Indonesia's forests still provide the "low-hanging fruit". Since a severe forest-and- peat-fires episode hit Indonesia last year, the country has been under a lot of pressure to manage its land use more sustainably. Indeed, Indonesia bases 65 per cent of its unconditional reductions on agriculture, forestry and other land use and peat management mitigation efforts. Extending a moratorium to cover not only primary forests and peatland but also secondary forests, revoking existing concession permits for undeveloped forest and restoring two million hectares of peatland and 12.7 million hectares of unproductive lands, are some of the actions that could help Indonesia achieve its reduction target.

• Horizontal synergy and vertical coordination are foundational. President Joko needs to put in place good climate governance founded on robust synergy between ministries. Concurrently, subnational governments could benefit from national assistance.


Time for action

Navin Singh Khadka

The Kathmandu Post, Nepal

It was more than just a signing ceremony at the United Nations General Assembly hall in New York.

Not only did 175 countries sign the Paris climate agreement, but 34 of them have also either already ratified it or committed to do so within this year. The deal requires 55 countries accounting for 55 per cent of the global carbon emissions to become operational.

Ratification by 34 countries represents nearly 50 per cent of what the world emits. This means it will need a few more countries to reach the 55 per cent mark. And by that speed, the agreement will come into force much earlier than the 2020 deadline.

When the Paris climate agreement was reached in the French capital last December, the deal was to implement it five years later. That was good news for some countries that were not willing to cut down their carbon emissions immediately on economic grounds. Others were concerned that the delay in implementation would result in dumping more carbon into the atmosphere and accelerating climatic changes.

Amid such uncertainty, the sooner-than-expected ratification of the agreement has come as welcome news for many.

The "excitement" in President Barack Obama's administration is understandable given what he has tried to do to cut down the carbon emissions by the US and, by extension, to secure the Paris deal. But we have to see what the policy of Mr Obama's successor would be or whether the deal will be ratified by the US Congress.

China too played a key role to set the ball rolling. The biggest emitter of the world told the UN General Assembly that it would ratify the deal before the G-20 meeting in September.

Not all countries, however, will see ratification so quickly and in a straightforward way as it will have to be debated in their Parliament. In the European Union, for instance, all its 28 member states will have to get it ratified individually, which cannot happen overnight.

Given that 2020 was the initially agreed deadline, some countries taking their time for ratification may not become a huge issue. But the key will be whether the agreement will actually come into force once it has been ratified by 55 countries. In other words: Will the world then begin to see a reduction in carbon emissions?

Scientists say drastic cuts in greenhouse gases, blamed for trapping heat on earth and causing climate change, are a must for limiting global temperature rise to well below 2 deg C - the main goal of the Paris deal. The climate plans submitted by countries to the UN just before the Paris climate summit last December showed that the goal was no way within reach.

The INDC, as the climate plans are known in the UN jargon, made it clear that the world was heading towards becoming nearly four degrees warmer compared with the pre-industrial period.

That is double the figure scientists have recommended if we are to avoid dangerous climatic changes. This means that even if the Paris climate agreement becomes operational, the carbon-cut commitments made by the countries will not be enough to achieve its goal. And that means countries, mainly the major emitters, will have to raise their ambitions.

The question then will be: Who will take the lead?

Remember how the US, China and India opposed the EU's decision to tax international airlines for emissions two years ago? Such episodes could become more frequent once the Paris deal comes into force.

The Kyoto Protocol, that was supposed to control carbon emissions since 2005, has shown that already. If the Paris agreement becomes a rerun of Kyoto, the world will have to live with runaway climate change. The question is: Will poor and vulnerable countries like Nepal be able to?


The environmental threat

Park Sang-seek

The Korea Herald, South Korea

Recently I have all but incarcerated myself in my apartment in order to avoid fine dust in Seoul.

The Environmental Agency of South Korea says that 30 to 50 per cent of fine dust in South Korea originates from China and one of the main culprits is diesel cars.

Public health in Korea is in serious danger. Unless the government and the industries and the people jointly make all-out efforts to eradicate the causes of the environmental threats, particularly fine dust, all Koreans will suffer from all kinds of deadly ills.

The environment issue is a global issue that requires a global solution.

This was the reason why the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development was held in Rio in 1992. Since then, the UN has been making great efforts.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change held its 21st meeting in Paris towards the end of last year, adopting a milestone agreement.

In the case of South Korea, it has to deal with the long-term and short-term impact of the environmental threats simultaneously.

The government has to deal with this issue on the domestic and international levels because air pollution originates from both Korea and China. South Korea should confront China in a more aggressive manner and at the same time it should eradicate the internally originated toxic gas.

• The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers. For more, see www.asianews.network

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2016, with the headline 'Govts must walk the talk to save the earth - and lives'. Print Edition | Subscribe