As I write this, masses of people of different nationalities and cultures are marching in New York ahead of the UN Climate Summit on September 23. 

Now, New York might be thousands of miles away, but the Summit’s topic and what all these people are marching for are so close to home for us here in Southeast Asia.

We see it in the news constantly: every deadly typhoon, every instance of flood or drought reminds us that we live in one of the most vulnerable regions in the world. Indeed, extreme weather and changing weather patterns—two impacts associated with global warming—are changing our lives.

This is the topic of a policy paper that the A-FAB coalition is launching today in Manila. A-FAB stands for “ASEAN for a Fair, Ambitious and Binding Global Climate Deal.” It is a coalition between Greenpeace, Oxfam and EROPA (Eastern Regional Organization for Public Administration).

This policy brief, entitled “Weathering Extremes: the need for a stronger ASEAN response,” written by one of Myanmar’s foremost meteorologists, takes stock of Southeast Asia’s most extreme weather catastrophes and how much it has cost the region in lives and economic opportunities.

In the past several years Southeast Asia has been visited by some of the worst weather disasters in its history. Think Nargis, Bopha, Haiyan, etc. And think about how experts are saying that this trend is now “the new normal.” If this is the new normal, what will Southeast Asia look like a decade from now, or in 50 years? The world our children will see will be very different from the world we currently live in.

According to a 2012 report by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and The World Bank on the average, Southeast Asia suffers damage in excess of USD $4.4 billion from natural hazards annually, an amount greater than 0.2 percent of regional GDP. Natural disasters in Southeast Asia are mostly weather- and water-related, and the incidence of deaths from such disasters is very high.

But it’s not just extreme weather that outs our region at risk. It’s also what is called slow onset climate impacts: things like sea level rise, ocean acidification and increasing temperatures, which affect our fresh water supply, our agriculture and our fisheries—in short, our sources of food.

But is there hope for us who live here? Yes, of course. How? To paraphrase the tagline of the People’s Climate March: to change everything, we need the entire ASEAN on board.

This means we need an ASEAN that:

  • works together toward low carbon and sustainable community building with policy support that favors renewable energy over fossil fuels;
  • helps member countries become more climate-resilient with adaptation projects;
  • takes a unified approach in dealing with climate change with harmonized policies at the national level;
  • develops a regional framework and plan of action on adaptation in agriculture; and
  • raises its voice in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in articulating the impacts of climate change in the region, and in pushing for a fair, ambitious and binding global climate deal.

As ASEAN citizens, what can we do to make this happen?

The best thing we can do right now it to let our voices be heard. The People’s Climate March is an example of how citizens are mobilizing in an international scale to reach international leaders.

Here in Southeast Asia, you can join the ASEAN People For Climate Action, an online mobilization of people throughout our region. Join us in calling for “actions—not words” so that together we can move the ASEAN to ensure a secure and resilient future for our part of the world.

Read the full policy brief here.


Atty. Zelda DT Soriano is a former professor of political and environmental laws, and a consultant on policy reform advocacy, Atty. Soriano serves as Political Advisor for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.