ASEAN strategy to deal with climate change has been formulated in ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC), one of the three ASEAN pillars.
There are some major strategies taken by the ASCC. First, dealing with information about diseases as a specific impact of climate change, the ASCC will strengthen cooperation through sharing of information and experiences to prevent and control infectious diseases related to global warming, climate change, natural and man-made disasters.
Second, to ensure environmental sustainability as the basic objective of the environmental aspect, the ASCC says that ASEAN will actively participate in global efforts toward addressing global environmental challenges, including climate change and ozone layer protection, and developing and adapting environmentally sound technology for development needs and environmental sustainability.
Third, ASCC specifically explains efforts in paragraph D.10, which describes actions that should be taken on mitigation and adaptation to climate change. All of those actions are related to technicalities on how to deal with climate change through developing transfer of technology, a low carbon economy, expanding research, developing measures and baselines, reducing deforestation and forest degradation, afforestation and reforestation.
ASEAN turns a blind eye to the real problems resulting from climate change. Its strategy has no reference to help people suffering from climate change effects, such as floods, prolonged drought or caterpillar plagues that are currently in Java and Madura.
Apparently, ASEAN climate change is hijacked by the international fora and trapped in a kind of “step forward, step back” strategy that maintains business as usual.
Climate change actions ignore the main reasons why ASEAN should deal with those technicalities. Stressed in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the main goal of endeavors against climate change is giving hope to the future of the existence of humans. It means the first priority of all mitigation and adaptation efforts is protecting people. Subsequently, those who are potentially impacted by climate change should be the priority.
Indigenous people, local communities, women and children and their fragile ecosystems are the most prone to climate change impacts.
Their condition should be the main reason to allocate an adaptation strategy.
Instead of doing more to help people, ASEAN climate change prefers the strategy adopted by the Annex I or developed countries, which give priorities to low carbon economy and transfer of technology.
The main strategy of developing countries should be allocating resources to help people that are living in danger because of climate change.
Another strategy stated in ASEAN climate change is ASEAN will promote Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) to retain forest cover in the future.
Conceptually, SFM is industrial strategy to keep trees standing until the cutting period is coming. This concept does reduce deforestation but helps industry run their business by continuing cutting trees in certain period.
SFM in ASEAN has revealed its failure. In 2004, ASEAN launched the Vientiane Action Plan that promoted and supported SFM.
However, in 2009 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that deforestation rates in ASEAN countries remained high at approximately 3.7 million hectares per year, equaling the 2000-2005 rate (Global Witness, September 2009: 5).
The progress made by ASEAN climate change through SFM is to promote forest management that involves the community living within and surrounding the forest for the sustainability of the forest and prosperity of the people.
This strategy should not only involve people but also place people living in the forest as the main actors who hold the rights and traditional knowledge to maintain forest sustainability.
However, SFM history is the history of the forest industry. Promoting SFM is a way to benefit deforesters and compensate them through the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) fund.
The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), another ASEAN pillar, also mentions climate change. Regarding infrastructure development, AEC says that while ASEAN strives to accelerate the establishment of an ASEAN Community by 2015, it is important to ensure that such development is sustainable through, among others, mitigating greenhouse gas emission by means of effective policies and measures, thus contributing to global climate change abatement.
Recognizing the limited global reserves of fossil energy and the unstable world prices of fuel, it is essential for ASEAN to emphasize the need to strengthen renewable energy development, such as bio-fuels, as well as to promote open trade, facilitation and cooperation in the renewable energy sector and related industries, and investment in infrastructure for renewable energy development. AEC also supports investment climate to contribute to climate change mitigation.
Like the ASCC, the AEC prioritizes actions that do not directly help vulnerable people who suffer from economic burdens from the impacts of climate change.
Indeed, from an economic perspective the real business of climate change is helping small economic groups recover after hardly hit by a catastrophe.
The AEC is wasting too much time on jargon and debates about fossil fuel but it definitely fails to link the real needs of the people who suffer from climate change and regional strategies to keep their economic prospects alive.
The charter, three pillars and ASEAN road map are full of progressive language, such as governance, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, anti-corruption and equality, but not substantially concerned on people’s rights, interests and welfare. Indigenous peoples are not at all mentioned or referred to in any ASEAN document, although they are an integral part of the ASEAN community.
The three pillars should not repeat those histories but conversely give space to make progress that respect human rights, including for those people living in the forest.
They need social and environmental safeguards to guarantee their rights with any project intended to mitigate climate change.
The pillars should reflect the reality on the ground and specifically the needs of those vulnerable groups, including indigenous people.
Therefore, the challenge of ASEAN is to make vulnerable people visible in terms of their rights and contributions in all aspects of the ASEAN community.
The writer is the program coordinator of Climate Change and REDD, HuMa Association, Jakarta