No more justification for banking on coal

Bonn (Germany) – Interview with Nithi Nesaduria, member of the South-East Asia delegation attending the latest round of climate change talks by the United Nations (UN) from 6-17 November

Nithi Nesaduria at COP23 November 2017 by FES

The latest round of climate change talks by the United Nations now over, the world is still tacking stock of the outcomes during the two-week negotiations in Bonn, Germany. 

Popularly referred to in the climate change circles as COP23, this year’s Conference of Parties was best described among experts and connoisseurs as a ‘technical’ COP—its focus placed on agreeing on the rules of the Paris Agreement (PA) that was adopted in 2015, at COP21 in Paris.

During the second week of COP23, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) met for an interview with Nithi Nesaduria, head of the Environmental Protection Society Malaysia (EPSM). Mr Nesaduria is also the regional coordinator of Climate Action Network South East Asia (CANSEA), one of eight regional networks established by the global non-profit Climate Action Network (link in English) to exchange information and address the socio-political issues associated with the climate change debate on a regional level.

Part of a nine-member civil society and trade union delegation from South-East Asia bringing diverse Asian perspectives at COP 23 in Bonn with the support of FES, in this interview Nithi Nesaduria raises the key topics addressed this year, how they link to the climate issue in Asia and the role of civil society in achieving the global climate change goals.    

What are the crucial issues at this year’s COP and how do the key topics of this year’s negotiations relate to the current situation in South East Asia to halt the dangerous human interference with the climate situation?

Nithi Nesaduria: Agreeing on the rules of the Paris Agreement (PA) adopted at COP21 in Paris in 2015 was at the focus of the COP23 held in Bonn, Germany. The agreement will prepare the stage for COP24 next year where most countries are expected to raise their ambition to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions through a process known as the Talanoa Dialogue, so that the global community is on the pathway to limiting long-term temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius degrees.

That said, some key issues remain crucial at this COP. While the PA looked at a post-2020 scenario, best results can only be achieved if deep and meaningful emission reductions take place before 2020, especially by the major industrialised countries. This condition was specified in the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 2012. Unfortunately, this Amendment has not entered into force as not enough countries have ratified it. A decision by these countries present here to do so will create an atmosphere of trust among all countries at COP23 and pave the way for a successful COP24.

Another issue that was addressed is what has been termed as Loss and Damage (L&D) associated with damage incurred by countries due to climate change. While it was institutionalised at COP19 in 2013, L&D must be allocated its own budget so that its Executive Committee can function effectively and guide the implementation of the L&D mechanism.

On the matter of finance, countries that have pledged to contribute towards the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the Adaptation Fund and Global Environment Facility must be urged to do so. With regard to the GCF, the 100 billion US dollars pledged to the fund has to be mobilised. Further, access to funds already in the GCF should not be hampered by cumbersome bureaucratic procedures and funds approved should be disbursed promptly.

All these issues relate in one way or another to the broad range of 10 countries that make up South-East Asia (SEA), from Laos and Vietnam in the north to Indonesia in the south.

What suggestions related to these topics did the CANSEA delegation bring to COP23?

NN: The CANSEA delegation to COP23 was represented by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. All the positions I raised earlier are in fact suggestions of the delegation. Represented at process associated to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since COP1, as a network we have a strong interest in the core issues of the COP—mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer, capacity building, and education. 

“Across South-East Asia, CANSEA can develop a common position on climate change, with climate-related data on all countries in the region, compiled by CANSEA, at the core of such a document.”

In addition to sharing CANSEA’s views directly with our national negotiators from the region, our delegation also articulates its views through the Climate Action Network and its working groups which develop positions for advocacy at this COP.

The United States (US) withdrawal from the Paris Agreement casts a dark shadow over the Conference. How does it affect the international climate goals?

NN: As the only country in the world outside the PA process, the US has isolated itself from the global community and its delegation was largely ignored here at COP23. I must say that it was heartening to see a second delegation from the US—the so called “We Are Still In” alternative—comprised by state governments, cities and business organizations in the US, which have pledged to make up for the emissions gap caused by the withdrawal of the US Federal Government. They were present, building solidarity with the global community.

A recent study on public opinion in the US by Yale University presented at this COP showed that the majority of the population surveyed expressed that their government should remain in the PA process. This could well be an indicator that the US Government will re-enter the process in 2021.

What do you think civil society can do to accelerate change in climate change or policy?

NN: Civil society has a vital role; not constrained by negotiated outcomes or political realities facing governments, it aims for the high ground. 

At the national level, member organizations can engage with their national, state and local governments and advocate for energy efficiency and renewable energy; for much-improved public transport systems; for reducing deforestation; and for reducing consumption, including eating less meat.

“At present, electricity is mainly derived from fossil-fuel sources and it is of an even greater concern that plans are underway for a serious expansion of coal-fired power plants across the region.”

Much of the thrust for this will come from mobilising public opinion and building coalitions with other stakeholders including civil society organisations such as human rights’, women’s and youth organisations. Across South-East Asia, CANSEA can develop a common position on climate change and present it at various regional fora. Climate-related data on all countries in the region, already compiled by CANSEA, will be at the core of such a document.

The Paris Agreement calls for global warming to be kept to as close to as possible to 1.5 degrees. In your opinion, what decisive action should SEA countries take as a part of global community to pursue this objective?

NN: Nearly all the 10 countries within South-East Asia can be classified as rapidly emerging economies. While their national contribution to global carbon dioxide emissions may be small, indicators such as electricity consumption are on a steady upward trajectory with little sign of correction in the future.

At present, electricity is mainly derived from fossil-fuel sources and it is of an even greater concern that plans are underway for a serious expansion of coal-fired power plants across the region. A high dependence on privately owned motor vehicles for mobility in the absence of integrated and comprehensive public transport systems dictates that energy consumption will continue to be high. Rapid development in the region is also placing forests under pressure. This is further aggravated by lack of transparency in decision making affecting natural resources. 

“While there may have been cost advantages to using coal in the past, there is no justification for banking on coal anymore!”

Decisive action to be taken in South-East Asia includes the need to shift to a low-carbon development pathway, a transformation to renewable energy and a transition away from coal, especially new coal-fired power plants, within the context of just transition.

While there may have been cost advantages to using coal in the past, the dynamics have changed. With the health and pollution implications and its adverse impacts on climate change, coupled with the significantly lower cost of renewable energy options, there is no justification for banking on coal anymore. ###

For more information on the work by FES on climate change in Asia, contact Yvonne Blos, Regional Coordinator for Climate Change in Asia at FES Vietnam Office, a regional hub that supports actors across Asia to set up, implement and scale up their efforts in the field of climate change, energy, and environment.

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