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Paris climate summit 2015

Why equality matters in Southeast Asia's climate change fight

Mary Ann Lucille Sering says leaders in developing Southeast Asia need to recognise that, in addition to developed countries, they too must act on global warming, for the good of their poor and economies

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 July, 2015, 11:14am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 November, 2015, 2:51pm

Countries in Southeast Asia have an opportunity to tackle both poverty and climate change, by building greater resilience to natural disasters and reaping the benefits of low-carbon growth.

A central goal of developing countries over the past decade has been to spread the gains of our economic growth to reduce inequality. By hurting the poor most, climate change now threatens to unravel those efforts. A report last month for the Asian Development Bank, "To Foster Inclusive Growth, Tackle Inequality and Climate Change", found that the poor were hit first and hardest when natural disasters strike.

By living on the edge, physically and financially, they have the least capacity to cope. The report concluded that fighting inequality and climate change can work hand in hand: pursuing policies which help the poor can boost their resilience to climate change; equally, curbing carbon emissions can reduce inequality by limiting future climate disasters.

We in the Philippines understand the dangers, after Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,300 people in 2013, left some 6 million people without jobs, and pushed an extra 1.5 million into extreme hardship.

We also know that our region is at risk. The rating agency Standard & Poor's last year ranked more than 100 economies according to their climate vulnerability. They placed four Southeast Asian nations in the top 10, including the Philippines, reflecting our agrarian economies, coastal cities, vulnerability to tropical cyclones and relatively low income.

The Philippines is stepping up its fight against climate change, even with our limited resources. Our installed capacity of zero-carbon, geothermal power is second only to the US, and we are implementing a national strategy for climate-smart development. But we must do more.

How can we secure the greatest benefit from a global agreement on climate change, to be reached in Paris at the end of this year? The world's industrialised nations must curb their greenhouse gas emissions. They have the responsibility and the means. They have grown their economies by burning fossil fuels, creating historical carbon emissions that will remain in the atmosphere for many centuries.

They must give their fair share of climate finance, to help us cut our greenhouse gas emissions and build our resilience to natural disasters. They have pledged US$100 billion in climate aid by 2020, and are still a long way short.

However, we must also be climate leaders. Southeast Asia must seize its chance for a strong Paris agreement on climate change, for two reasons. First, as we have seen, our countries lie in harm's way, now from typhoons, and increasingly from crop failures, sea level rise, damage to coral reefs and acidifying oceans. Second, economists, investors and engineers are ever more convinced that a low-carbon economy can also be more prosperous.

Like many Asian economies, the Philippines still depends on fossil fuels. This is changing, however. Last year, we more than doubled our installed wind capacity, and ranked third in all Asia for new wind power projects, behind China and India. An even greater revolution beckons in solar power.

The fight against climate change is a fight for human justice, innovation and, most of all, cooperation. Yes, developed countries bear more responsibility, but this is also our fight, for our people. As President Benigno Aquino said last year in New York: "Together, we must face these challenges and surmount them, or together we will suffer the consequences of inaction."

Mary Ann Lucille Sering is secretary of the Philippines Climate Change Commission