Many in Asean back renewables as climate risks grow: Survey

Majority feel urgency of cutting dependence on coal, say govts need to increase green spending

The majority of people in Asean want to shift away from the use of polluting fossil fuels and embrace renewable energy to tackle climate change, as floods, loss of biodiversity and sea-level rise loom as the top three climate threats in the region, a survey of public attitudes released yesterday shows.

Most governments in the region are not doing enough on climate change and need to enact climate-friendly policies and increase green spending, respondents said in the South-east Asia Climate Outlook Survey 2021 published by the Climate Change in South-east Asia Programme at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute.

Overall, 70 per cent of respondents said that climate change is a serious and immediate threat, reflecting the region's vulnerability to the growing impacts of stronger storms, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.

The survey was conducted online from June 11 to Aug 2 and involved 610 respondents from all 10 Asean member states. They came from a range of backgrounds, including academia, government, business, civil society and media.

A total of 79 per cent said they felt the urgency of cutting reliance on coal, the single largest source of planet-warming carbon dioxide.

In Indonesia and Singapore, 85.9 per cent and 85.2 per cent held this view, respectively.

The majority of Singaporean, Vietnamese and Indonesian respondents also believe that reduction of dependence on fossil fuels will yield short-term pain but long-term gains.

There was also strong consensus on the potential of tapping the renewable energy sector that is emerging across the region. All the respondents from Brunei and Laos agreed with this statement. In both Singapore and Indonesia, 96.7 per cent agreed, while 95 per cent did so in Vietnam.

A total of 46.1 per cent of respondents felt that their government is aware of the threats of climate change but has not allocated sufficient resources to address them. A further 24.8 per cent said their government is not giving enough attention to climate change. Only 15.7 per cent said their government has allocated sufficient resources.

Singapore respondents (41.8 per cent) ranked the highest in their view that their government considers climate change an urgent national priority and has allocated sufficient resources to address climate threats, compared with just 2.9 per cent of Thai respondents.

The findings are similar to a climate survey of 17 advanced economies, including Singapore, released on Tuesday by Pew Research Centre, which found widespread concern about the personal impact of climate change. The survey also found there was less confidence in efforts, particularly by China and the United States, to solve the problem.

"There is indeed a lack of confidence in the government's role in climate action in the region," said Ms Melinda Martinus, a lead researcher at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute and co-author of the report.

"Most South-east Asians are not climate deniers, and they are relatively excited about the economic opportunities arising from green transformation. But, they are not sure and not confident that their government is doing enough to limit global warming to 1.5 deg C," she told The Straits Times.

In the Asean survey, 30.7 per cent picked the European Union as showing the greatest climate leadership, followed by Japan at 19.3 per cent, China at 7.7 per cent, Australia at 5.4 per cent and the US at 4.8 per cent.

Respondents strongly believe governments need to encourage businesses to adopt green practices, as well as enact climate laws and allocate more public financial support for green solutions that cut carbon emissions.

The majority of respondents also disagree (45.6 per cent) or are unsure (38.7 per cent) that their government's Covid-19 stimulus spending contributed to a green recovery.

Ms Sharon Li-Lian Seah, a senior fellow at the institute and report co-author, said every respondent is likely well aware and might have benefited from stimulus dollars doled out by governments.

"The result is very telling in that only 15.7 per cent said spending went towards a green recovery. Almost half of the respondents said there is no evidence of governments contributing to a green recovery," she told ST.

Yet, when asked how Asean governments could collectively combat climate change, the three most popular options are investing in renewable energy (51.8 per cent), establishing a regional forest and restoration programme (40.3 per cent), and encouraging Asean businesses to set internal emissions targets and voluntarily disclose climate-related data (39.2 per cent).

While those surveyed would like governments and businesses to take responsibility for climate action, they stop short at individual responsibility, said Ms Seah.

"While they believe that a reduction in use of fossil fuels is most needed and that it will yield short-term pain but long-term gain and drive innovation and competition of their economies, there is reluctance to consider other policy instruments such as a carbon tax," she said.

"The preference is for investments in renewable energy and regional forest conservation and restoration programmes, none of which involves personal liability."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2021, with the headline 'Many in Asean back renewables as climate risks grow: Survey'. Subscribe