Warwick ASEAN Conference

Report Card: ASEAN in COP26

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) has been described as ‘humanity’s last hope’, as it gathers world leaders together to address climate change. Public opinion has been split when it came to the conference. As Greta Thunberg puts it, COP26 has been a ‘two-week long celebration of business as usual and blah, blah, blah’. 

But when international media companies put global superpowers and the world’s largest emitters in the spotlight. I can’t help but ask – what are our ASEAN leaders doing? As COP26 comes to a close, it is time to evaluate the contributions we have made to COP26.

Although there were multiple initiatives and conventions signed during the conference, there have been two key documents that are used in evaluating a country’s involvement in COP26.

  1. Global Methane Pledge – an initiative to reduce global methane emissions to keep the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach; and commit to a collective goal of reducing global methane emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030
  2. Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use – commit to working collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation.  

Thailand

On a surface level, Thailand seemed to understand the significance when they flew Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha himself to the conference. After all, Chiang Mai has been awarded the ‘most polluted city in the world for several consecutive days due to its growing smog problems. As some parts of Thailand are being swamped in the rising waters, others suffered the worst drought in four decades. Climate change has arrived in Thailand. 

Although Thailand’s Prime Minister was seen alongside world leaders like Joe Biden, Justin Trudeau, Boris Johnson and more, their signatures remain missing from the two key agreements presented at the COP26 summit. 

Rating: 1/5; probably a PR stunt 

Vietnam

Similar to Thailand, Vietnam has found some of its cities prone to occasionally being flooded, and has done significant economic damage to its agriculture industry and people’s livelihoods. But like most developing nations, Vietnam is heavily dependent on coal and has little to no technological and economic capital to transition to green technology. 

However, Vietnam decided that despite these challenges, they have committed to stop deforestation by 2030 and phase out coal-fueled power generation by 2040, 10 years later from the majority of nations. This provides a comforting hope for Vietnam – as their leaders are willing to step up to combat climate change despite the challenges. 

Rating: 5/5; optimistic but on the right track 

Myanmar

Having dressed up for the fancy party, the Myanmar delegation was probably excited for a trip to Glasgow. But after experiencing a few hours of the cold British weather, they were on a flight back home after the UNFCCC denied their entry to the conference as a sign of disapproval of the Junta government. 

Hence, without ever getting to join the party, it is unclear what Myanmar’s stance on climate change is. We can only hope they care about the climate more than they care about their citizens. 

Rating: 2/5; at least they tried 

Malaysia

Initially, off to a rocky start, Malaysia had no ministerial-level representative present at the COP26 World Leaders Summit, which occurred in the first two days of the conference. This also meant that they were not present when the countries signed the Global Methane Pledge and the commitment to end deforestation by 2030. 

But in true Malaysian fashion, they were just late. Ministry of Environment and Water (KASA) minister Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man showed up at the conference a few days later and pledged that he would sign the two agreements mentioned above. Malaysia is looking for negotiations around the common timeframe for the NDC, which are the country’s climate targets. 

Rating: 4/5; maintained cultural practices of being late, but seemed to be interested in fighting climate change at the end

Singapore

Singapore has always been ahead of the learning curve compared to its ASEAN peers – first ASEAN nation to implement a carbon tax, enhancing its NDC under the UNFCCC, establishing a Climate Action Package to aid developing countries’ adaptation and mitigation efforts; and more recently, developing the Singapore Green Plan 2030. 

Hence, for the high scoring students, the expectations are no longer just to sign the two conventions, even though they did do that. Singapore should now fulfil their role as a co-facilitator of establishing an international carbon market and continue to assist developing nations, specifically ASEAN states, in implementing green technology. 

Rating: 6/5; always go for extra credit 

Laos

Laos tends to be a nation that is forgotten within the ASEAN region. Before COP26, Laos submitted an enhanced new NDC, which aimed to achieve net-zero by 2050 across all sectors but also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030. Laos’s promise to attain such lofty goals come under the conditions that it receives adequate financial support from their richer allies, which it greatly advocated for during COP26.

However, contradictory to its goals in its NDC, Laos did not sign either the deforestation agreement or the global methane pledge. The reason for this decision remains unclear, but the lack of involvement in global efforts is not reflecting well for Laos.

Rating: 2/5; the smart quiet kid in class who does not talk to the other students

Cambodia

Cambodia, similar to its ASEAN neighbours, suffers from flooding and droughts that have caused a shift in political discourse within the country. Hence, prior to COP26, it has already shown interest in making novel ideas such as carbon trading. 

Within COP26, Cambodia did not seem to back down either. It signed both the methane pledge and the commitment to end deforestation. But more surprisingly, it was one of the few countries that signed the COP26 declaration on accelerating the transition to 100% zero-emission cars and vans, which aims to work towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero-emission globally by 2040.

Despite being one of the lowest contributors to pollution, Cambodia has made ambitious pledges to end climate change to protect its citizens. 

Rating: 5/5; did the further readings and additional assignments 

Indonesia

The neighbours of Indonesia have long been accusing them of causing transboundary haze issues due to the large-scale burning of palm oil plantations. And though the situation has been improving the past few years, all ASEAN eyes were on Indonesia in COP26 in hopes that the problem student would become better. 

Hence, when Indonesia signed the Global Methane Pledge and the deforestation commitment on November 2, we all let out a relieved sigh. But in less than a hundred hours, they backtracked, making clear that its interpretation of the pledge was less absolute than ending deforestation completely, and called the commitment unfair. 

Rating: 2/5; cannot keep promises, will probably burn the forest again 

Philippines

Prior to COP26, the Philippines changed their NDC to lower emissions by 75% by 2030. But more so than other states, this goal is heavily dependent on foreign funding and assistance. Hence, when they flew to COP26, they made it clear that developed nations must support the Philippines in its endeavours to prevent climate change. 

Just when we all thought the Philippines might have been a bit optimistic about their goals, they came to COP26 and signed the Global Methane Pledge and commitment to end deforestation. For a country with one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, it provides a sense of comfort that the Philippines is truly committed to ending climate change. We can only hope that they do not backtrack. 

Rating: 4/5; ambitious, but should try to be more independent

Brunei

Brunei has an immense forest coverage of 72% of the nation’s landmass. Hence, when they announced they were going to commit to ending deforestation, and even look to plant more trees and increase areas of forest reserves, it was a step in the right direction for the country. 

However, their signature was not seen when it came to the Global Methane Pledge. There has been little to no information about why they have decided to do so, despite making multiple statements about committing to solve climate change. 

Rating: 3/5; solid attempt, should try to finish the last bit of work

Summary

The table below summarises the ASEAN’s nations involvement in the key documents in COP26. 

CountryGlobal Methane PledgeCommitment to End Deforestation
Thailand
Vietnam
Myanmar
Malaysia
Singapore
Laos
Cambodia
Indonesia✓* (backtracked)
Philippines
Brunei

In conclusion, most of our ASEAN states have been pulling their weight and making ambitious goals for COP26. Countries that were hit hardest by the effect of climate change like Vietnam and the Philippines have been particularly involved in joining the effort. However, we could still stand to benefit from more nations participating in the effort.

References

https://ukcop26.org/glasgow-leaders-declaration-on-forests-and-land-use/

https://www.vietnam-briefing.com/news/cop26-climate-change-vietnams-commitment-reducing-emissions.html/

https://thediplomat.com/2021/11/what-was-thailand-doing-at-the-cop26-summit/

https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/snubbed-11102021183951.html

https://earthjournalism.net/stories/cop-26-malaysia-focuses-on-climate-ambitions-financing-carbon-markets

https://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/cop-26-malaysia-focusing-climate-ambitions-financing-carbon-markets

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/commentary/cop26-singapore-co-facilitator-article-6-carbon-market-climate-change-paris-agreement-energy-2309266

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cop26-declaration-zero-emission-cars-and-vans/cop26-declaration-on-accelerating-the-transition-to-100-zero-emission-cars-and-vans

https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/indonesia-walk-talk-deforestation-despite-cop26-u-turn-2021-11-11/

https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/statement_21_5766

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-34265922

https://www.dgb.earth/blog/countries-highest-deforestation-rates

https://www.philstar.com/headlines/climate-and-environment/2021/11/11/2140530/philippines-highlights-concrete-climate-efforts-cop26-groups-say-govt-should-do-more

https://www.thestar.com.my/aseanplus/aseanplus-news/2021/11/04/brunei-joins-efforts-to-conserve-forests-ecosystems 

https://www.un.int/lao/news/lao-pdr-attend-26th-conference-parties-united-nations-framework-convention-climate-change-cop

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