The Jakarta Post
The 74th United Nations General Assembly held this week headlined the warming planet, a topic that might otherwise have gone cold amid the member countries’ reluctance to commit to reducing carbon emissions. In New York, state leaders did not express any new level of commitment that was ambitious enough to keep the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius as mandated by the Paris Agreement.
Of the 196 countries bound to the Climate Pledge, only seven countries have laid out plans to cut their emission to align with Paris – with India the largest emitter among the group. The remaining 189 countries, including China and Indonesia, are committing to emissions cuts as per usual. The United States is planning to bail out entirely of the commitment.
There is growing impatience around the planet, which has been battered by earthquakes, cyclones, floods and wildfires due to prolonged drought. Climate protests in countries, initiated by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, were mostly driven by youths who have seen more severe natural disasters across the globe destroy lives, including their own.
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” Thunberg told the assembly in New York.
But change has yet to arrive. Vice President Jusuf Kalla, for one, even used the occasion to blame climate change as the actual cause of the raging forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, but no stronger commitments or plans are actually in place in the Indonesia’s climate fight.
With the Climate Pledge expected to come into force after 2020, the world has a serious problem indeed. The poorly committed countries, even if they have signed the pledge in Paris and submitted their national emissions cut strategy, may have a compliance problem.
Countries often argue about development and economic growth against the demands for bolder action to stop global warming. And they often treat the annual climate talks and the global pledge to cut emissions as collateral for trade talks or a new business opportunity, if not a barrier to trade. Often missing is any real consideration of the inevitability of climate-related disasters.
Leaders can easily choose to ignore Thunberg, but their peoples are the ones who will bear the brunt of the climate-related disasters that they are failing to either prevent or mitigate.
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific recently reported that Asia-Pacific nations were experiencing climate-related disasters that caused an estimated US$675 billion in economic losses per year. Indonesia, along with India and China, has average disaster-related losses exceeding $20 billion every year.
If state leaders find multilateralism not particularly compelling enough to begin saving the environment, despite the annual talks, they should look at the climate fight as a fight for survival. They should not leave all the hard work to Thunberg and her entire generation.