The Bangkok Climate Change Conference, held at the beginning of September, was intended to lay the groundwork for the 24th Conference of Parties (COP24), where guidelines on how to make the Paris Agreement functional will be decided. But rather than progress, it was the negatives that took centre stage at the conference, as the disparity in the contribution of developing and developed countries came to the fore.
“So far in Bangkok, it looks like rich countries are making a concerted effort to avoid any conversations that would ensure they live up to their existing obligations for providing climate finance,” noted Brandon Wu, ActionAid USA’s director of policy and campaigns, speaking at the conference. He went on to stress that developed nations are jeopardising the negotiations.
COP24 is a meeting of the supreme body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – consisting of representatives of the parties to the Convention – due to take place in Katowice, Poland, at the end of this year. It was expected that the guidelines, known as the Paris Agreement Work Programme, would be advanced at the conference in Bangkok, but those expectations fell short.
“The credibility of the process… is at stake”, said Michal Kurtyka, president designate of COP24, at the opening of the Bangkok conference. He added that they were not moving as swiftly as they should and that the need for concrete propositions and solutions is immediate.
Bangkok was chosen as the destination for the conference to bring world leaders and representatives to the heart of the problem: Bangkok is a city facing very immediate climatic concerns. Experts first sounded the alarm bells concerning Bangkok’s sinking problem in the 1980s. This was further verified in a 2015 study commissioned by the Thai government that concluded the city could be submerged in 15 years, giving the people just 12 years to find a solution.
The 2015 Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement was hailed as a landmark international deal that pledged to tackle climate change during a UN meeting in late December 2015. According to the UNFCCC, the Paris Agreement’s main purpose is to keep “a global temperature rise this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C.”
Should the agreement be finalised, it will come into global effect in 2020. The accord was tossed into turmoil in June 2017 when US President Donald Trump announced the US will exit the agreement. This would be a substantial blow, as the US had pledged $3 billion of aid to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which serves as a financial mechanism of the UNFCCC.
What is the Green Climate Fund?
The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is a global funding network set up in 2010 – which now includes the 194 states and the European Union that are signatories of the UNFCCC – with the intention of helping “developing countries limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change” by delivering equal amounts of funding to mitigation and adaptation efforts.
Since 2003, $10.3 billion has been pledged to the GCF, with the majority of the funding coming from developed nations. But the GCF website tracking the funds shows that only $3.51 billion has been committed so far. Advanced countries have promised to jointly pitch in $100 billion per year by 2020.
When countries promote climate-friendly policies, people adopt more sustainable habits and businesses respond to these demands, so we get closer to grasping a secure, prosperous, green futureDechen Tsering, UN Environment’s regional director for Asia
When the Paris Agreement was first sealed in 2015, a collective of NGOs known as the Civil Society Review published a report that found “the majority of developing countries have made mitigation pledges that exceed or broadly meet their fair share, but they also have mitigation potential that exceeds their pledges and fair share”.
The report continued: “Although climate finance is critical for developed countries to deliver their fair shares, there is a striking lack of clear commitments.”
Climate change in Southeast Asia
Around the same time the Paris Agreement was being sealed, Asian Development Bank released a report naming Southeast Asia as one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to the effects of climate change. It warned that in the following decades, the region could become a “major contributor to global warming”.
Between 1999 and 2014, the GDP of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam grew at an average of 4% to 7% as a result of rapid structural transformation. This rapid growth resulted in a steep increase in greenhouse gas emissions in the region.
Dechen Tsering, the UN Environment’s regional director for Asia and the Pacific, reiterated the dangers that Southeast Asia faces and called for swift action.
“The upside is that there is still time to act – if only just [enough time]. We’ve seen a number of countries shift to renewable energy and improved energy efficiency. This shift needs to expand and quicken,” she told Southeast Asia Globe. “We have a big opportunity to fight climate change by phasing out potential greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbon that we use in air conditioners and refrigerators. More efficient transport, such as better transit, more cycling and electric vehicles are a great as well, and can also address deadly air pollution.”
She painted a broader picture of how environmental change would work: “When countries promote climate-friendly policies, people adopt more sustainable habits and businesses respond to these demands, [so] we get closer to grasping a secure, prosperous, green future.”
The GCF currently has 74 ongoing projects globally and, out of the $3.51 billion approved, $155.8m (4.4%) has been allocated to three projects in Southeast Asia. Two are in Vietnam and one is in Cambodia, all dealing with mitigation and adaptation. A spokesman for the GCF told Southeast Asia Globe that there are plans for a further 19 projects and programmes in the region, amounting to $904 million. Although the spokesman didn’t go into specific details on the projects, he confirmed they aim to ensure geographical diversity.
The Bangkok conference ended rather ominously. Many international representatives, noticing the deep divisions, viewed the progress as being “uneven”.
Mohamed Adow, international climate lead for Christian Aid, voiced his frustration on the closing day of the conference: “When it comes to climate change actions, the message from the developed world to the developing countries is that you just have to do it yourself.”
He added: “We cannot afford – particularly the European Union, Japan, Australia, Canada, Switzerland – [to hide] behind the US. I think we have to call them out and they have to actually step out from the sidelines and lead this effort from the front. And it’s only through that that we can protect, but also enhance, the very hard-won balance we had in Paris in 2015.”