Asia set to roast the planet

We need leadership from China, Indonesia, India and the Philippines

Share
Related Topics

Last week, President Barack Obama gave a potentially transformational speech on climate change which is likely to have a major impact on US business and society. This offers a stark contrast to the inaction seen time and again at the UN climate talks, and the downright destructive action taking place in Asia.

At a time when the climate change stakes are reaching alarming heights, the UN talks (their latest round concluded three weeks ago in Bonn) continue to be bedeviled with a lack of momentum and momentous doses of hypocrisy. In an ominous coincidence, the Bonn talks were followed by smoky, hazardous haze engulfing Singapore and parts of Malaysia because of forest fires in Indonesia on concessions operated shamelessly by some of the largest pulp and paper companies in the world. 

The Singapore haze is a powerful symbol of what is wrong with the global efforts to fight climate change:  Asia is busy toasting and roasting the planet by setting out to build some 1,000 coal-fired power plants (China and India alone account for 76 per cent of the proposed new coal power capacity globally).

The World Bank's latest climate report predicts what seems like epochal change: unprecedented heat-waves, severe food shortages, intense misery from cyclones, floods and droughts - in a world where temperature increase over pre-industrial level is up to 4 degrees Celsius.  In the meantime, China is decaying with its ecosystem already permanently impaired; India is suffering from sea level rise, coastal erosion, land loss, precipitation decline and droughts; Bangladesh and the Philippines are slowly shrinking; and major cities like Bangkok and Jakarta are at risk of not existing in 30 years.  And that’s all before the 1000 proposed coal-fired power plants are built.

Ironically, the World Bank and other international financial institutions such as the Asian Development Bank are key accomplices in Asia’s self-destruction. During the presidency of Robert Zoellick for example (2007 to 2012), the World Bank financed a record amount of fossil fuel infrastructure and its projects committed many countries to coal for 50 years -- the life-expectancy of coal-fired power plants.

The path forward to doing the right thing is clear, though strong leadership skills are required.

First, Asia should decisively tackle fossil fuel subsidies, which according to the IMF equal at least $1.9 trillion a year, or 2.5% of global GDP.  A massive $280 billion to $500 billion of these are in China.  Asia should gradually replace expensive fossil fuel subsidies with cheaper feed-in tariffs for renewable energy, thus saving money and re-routing cash to the poorest elements of society, to climate change adaptation and to phasing out, over time, fossil fuel infrastructure.  

Second, instead of continuing on its current path to self-destruction, Asia – particularly the high population countries of China, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, whose people are likely to suffer more from climate change than anyone else - should change tack and lead the world’s climate change negotiations towards decisive action.  This should include taking on binding commitments to cut their emissions and using the carbon markets to mobilise capital on a large scale to finance their low carbon transformation. 

Third, the World Bank and all other international financial institutions should stop promoting energy and infrastructure projects which are not climate friendly.  This is about much more than not investing in coal-fired power plant:  what about roads, ports, airports, buildings?  When the World Bank helps finance a road or a port facility, why isn’t it promoting efficient transport infrastructure?  What about green buildings?  The World Bank must align its rhetoric and its actions and change its entire approach to its lending business, or accept that fighting climate change should rest with a new institution, free of the World Bank’s legacy issues.  

Fourth, we need to continue our efforts to ensure we have a proper price for CO2. Today, accountants are signing off on financial statements which don’t make sense: For example, Exxon’s market value takes into account its oil and gas revenues and reserves without any regard for their impact on the planet. A reasonable carbon price would ensure that “true and fair value” accounting leads to a shrinking fossil fuel industry whose access to capital is significantly impaired.  Indeed entire industries such as oil and gas, pulp and paper and others might in fact be loss-making if their destruction of natural capital were taken into account.  Instead, without a carbon price, companies are “profitable” even if they are polluting clean air, clean water, destroying eco-systems and forests, and affecting the health and safety of thousands or even millions of people.

President Obama’s speech continues US efforts towards a cleaner economy. Asia - and its financiers - should rise to the challenge and plug the enormous gap there currently is between climate friendly rhetoric and climate destructive actions.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
Nai or Oxi: whether Greece says Yes or No today its citizens will continue to struggle  

Greece crisis: Referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its lack of genuine legitimacy

Rupert Cornwell
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test