"Governments failed us at COP25"

As governments show insufficient signs of comprehensively addressing the climate emergency, civil society must step up efforts to make sure their voices are heard.

Nithi Nesadurai is the Regional Coordinator of the Climate Action Network South East Asia (CANSEA), based in Malaysia. He participated as a civil society representative at COP25 in Madrid (2 – 13 December 2019), supported by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. After returning from the COP, he spoke about the outcomes, the impact of switching the location last minute to Madrid, and the road ahead for raising climate ambition in South East Asia.

What was the focus of COP25 in Madrid?

At the outset, outcomes at COP25 in Madrid were straight forward. Four major topics were up for discussion. Three of them were uncompleted business carried forward from COP24 in Katowice, Poland in 2018 – raising ambition, developing market mechanisms for a global emissions trading system and agreeing on a transparency framework. The fourth was on Loss and Damage (L&D) relating to the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), adopted at COP19 in 2013.

Providing a sense of urgency for the outcomes, the term climate emergency had been mainstreamed and adverse impacts of climate change could be felt during the COP. On day two, Typhoon Kammuri slammed into the Philippines while bushfires were, and continue, ravaging Australia. Considered to be a technical COP, no difficult political decisions were expected.

In spite of these circumstances, COP25 turned out to be a huge disappointment. In terms of outcomes, no decisions were made on market mechanisms for carbon trading, and transparency, while ambition only received a minor mention. The outcome on L&D did not mention the provision of finance, a major ask of civil society organisations (CSOs).

What has been achieved in terms of implementing Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which sets out the scope of a global emissions trading system?

No agreement was achieved on Article 6 or market mechanisms. Ironically, this non-outcome came as a relief to CSOs. Various dodgy accounting measures proposed during negotiations would have made a mockery of any emissions trading system and led to non-climate action.

Did you feel that Chile‘s withdrawal to host COP25 due to political unrest left an impact and what did it mean for the participation of CSOs? What was your impression of the role CSOs played during the COP?

Chile’s withdrawal from hosting COP25 in Santiago provided challenges to its government and participants. CSOs in particular were adversely affected by the late change in venue to Madrid. Having already incurred heavy costs for air travel to and hotel accommodation in Santiago, for which refunds were limited, many CSOs could not source additional funds to travel to Madrid. As an example, CANSEA’s participation was reduced by 50 per cent.

I was impressed by the role CSOs played during the COP. As part of Climate Action Network (CAN), CANSEA was involved in tracking the negotiations on a real-time basis, participating in strategy meetings and CAN’s Political Coordination Group. Subsequently CANSEA informally engaged with negotiators from the region (Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam) to lobby them, and also participated in a bilateral meeting between the Japanese delegation and CAN to object to Japan’s financing coal projects in South East Asia. CAN also gave out the so-called ‘Fossil of the Day’ award to shame specific countries for behaving irresponsibly at the COP.

One interesting development was the coming together of various CSO constituencies – such as students, youth, gender, indigenous peoples and CAN – to hold protests twice within the venue when lack of progress by negotiators became intolerable.

The Paris Agreement established five-year cycles to increase climate ambitions. 2020 will be the first time countries will put forward their enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Have countries and governments delivered so far?

About 70 countries have delivered on committing to enhance their NDCs. Most of them are climate-vulnerable developing countries. In contrast, nearly all the major emitting nations have yet to submit their revised NDCs.

What needs to happen to raise the level of ambition?

For the level of ambition to be raised, CSOs need to engage with and pressure our governments to enhance their NDCs to reflect greater climate ambition. This is the role CANSEA will actively play from now right up to COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2020. Another will be to push the region’s intergovernmental body, ASEAN, to adopt a stronger position on climate change.

What are challenges for the context of South East Asia and how does CANSEA want to address them?

South East Asia is one of the fastest growing economic regions in the world. Emissions are projected to rise with an estimated tripling of demand for electricity by 2040. Unfortunately, the region is looking at fossil fuels to meet this demand. Especially alarming is the increasing role coal – used for 40% of current electricity consumption – is expected to play in the future.

CANSEA will address the issue of transitioning away from fossil fuels to low-carbon development through its member organisations present in five countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam – and by recruiting new members in the remaining countries. They will engage with their respective governments to incorporate the transition away from coal into the enhanced NDCs. Another related area of action will be shifting flows of financial institutions away from fossil fuels to invest in renewable energy.

CANSEA will also use the multistakeholder alliances already created by its member organisations in Indonesia (Indonesia Low Emissions Network), Philippines (Climate Action Partnership) and Vietnam (Vietnam Coalition for Climate Action) to garner additional support for these initiatives.


For more information on the FES climate project in Asia, visit the FES Vietnam website and follow their daily updates on the Facebook fan page.

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