Climate and Environment
‘Asia is Poised for Climate Leadership’
After the US withdrawal from the Paris deal, Asia is poised for climate leadership even in the absence of a common pattern of responses on climate politics from different Asian countries, a leading environment expert has said.
Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) CEO Arunabha Ghosh said that Asia – with its two largest populations in China and India with their large carbon footprints – can indeed take climate leadership but it needed to speak for the world not just for itself.
“We don’t need an Asian voice; we need many Asian voices to describe many Asian transitions,” he said while delivering a lecture here as a part of Changing Asia lecture series organised by the Society for Policy Studies (SPS) along with India Habitat Centre on Tuesday evening.
Ghosh said the US exit from the Paris deal brings a whole new dimension to the politics of climate change.
“Immediately after US President Donald Trump’s announcement, commentators across the world jumped to pass the climate leadership mantle on to China, perhaps to convey the message to other countries that all was not lost,” he said.
Ghosh said that underlying premise behind this approach was flawed as it presumed that the US was the world’s climate leader until May 31.
He said while the US was central to the problem and was needed for a practical solution, it was not the climate leader.
“Second, the argument presumes that China was both ready and willing to become the climate leader. China’s response, while aggressive in ambition and action, is still very much a mixed story. The clean goes hand in hand with a lot of dirty,” Ghosh said.
Ghosh said the talk of passing of the mantle of climate leadership to China was flawed as there are three different Asias when it comes to climate politics — China, which stands apart in terms of its economic size and share of emissions; India along with several other South and South East Asian economies which are rapidly growing and still have hundreds of millions in poverty; and the Central and West Asia with limited diversification in their economic structure and limited capabilities to develop the industries of the future.
“So, it would be unrealistic to expect a common pattern of responses from Asia on climate politics,” Ghosh said.
He added the “technocratic passing of the baton from one country to another” measures climate leadership in presidential statements and academic charts and not from the perspective of communities impacted or the people suffered.
Ghosh said while China has announced that its coal consumption would rise to more than four billion tonnes by 2020, latest evidence showed that the European Union’s emissions increased in 2015.
“It is clear that climate politics will be driven by national interest and climate action will be affected by economic interest.”
Ghosh said Asia’s role should be to persevere for a different kind of climate politics, a reformulated climate economics and inclusive climate ethics.
“Asia can change the climate game by adding its voice on issues that have largely escaped attention with developed countries dominating the discourse so far.”
The morality of climate negotiations have so far rested on historical responsibility and the polluter pays principle.
“From that point of origin came demands for financial support, technology transfers and loss of damage… These are demands and justifiably so. But Asia also needs to propose moral positions,” he said.
Ghosh said that Asia’s growing share in global economy, its footprint on energy markets and emissions and its institutional leadership put it in a position to articulate a new climate ethics.
“Asia needs to speak for the world, not just for itself.”