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: Magento Front End Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Front End Web Developer is re...

Investigo: management accountant

£250 - £300 per day: Investigo: Growing international marketing business requi...

Recruitment Genius: ORM / Online Reputational Consultant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ORM Consultant is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Facilities Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Burning vehicles are seen near the village of Ghajar on Israel's border with Lebanon January 28, 2015  

Israel vs Hezbollah: Why another war is unlikely

Maya Gebeily
Sammie Welch, 23, was given a note praising her parenting skills with Rylan, three  

Praising a stranger for looking after their child isn't kind — it's the parenting equivalent of cat-calling

Sophie Zadeh
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore