Kyoto Protocol anniversary: Southeast Asia must cut its rising greenhouse gas emissions

Feature story - February 20, 2007
As we mark the 2nd anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol, the spectre of climate change provides an imperative for the developing nations of Southeast Asia to build their economies on the foundation of a sustainable energy supply, curbing and limiting its collective greenhouse gas emissions.

More than 200 schoolchildren take part in a human mosaic on the Rice fields of Pulupundan, forming the message: "Kyoto Protocol: new dawn for the climate."

Southeast Asia collectively ranks third highest in greenhouse gas emissions among developing countries after China and India.  Under the business-as-usual scenario of the International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Outlook Projection, with 2003 as the base year, East's Asia's carbon dioxide emissions will increase 350% by 2050. This is an unacceptable scenario considering that scientists warn of dire consequences if globally we do not cut to half total greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.

During the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period, developed country signatories committed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% from their 1990 levels within the period of 2008-2012. 

Kyoto Protocol signatories will gather in Bali, Indonesia in December 2007 to negotiate the second phase of the agreement, covering the period from 2013-2017.Within this timeframe, industrialised countries need to reduce their CO2 emissions by 18% from 1990 levels, and then by 30% between 2018 and 2022, with a target of at 75% reductions by mid-century. Only with these cuts do we stand a reasonable chance of keeping the average increase in global temperatures to less than 2°C, beyond which the effects of climate change will become catastrophic.

From a moral, legal and practical perspective, the initial burden of emissions reductions has to fall on industrialized countries.  However, developing countries in Southeast Asia must stabilize its carbon dioxide emissions by choosing renewable energy and energy efficiency while at the same time increasing energy consumption through economic growth. Southeast Asia must not follow a a path that would further increase its greenhouse gas emissions.  To make this happen, Southeast Asia must sever the strong correlation between economic development and the use of fossil fuels particularly coal.

Recently, Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Coalition (EREC) released a report, 'Energy [R]evolution: A sustainable World Energy Outlook', showing that it is economically feasible to cut global CO2 emissions by almost 50% within the next 43 years.  It concludes that a massive uptake of renewable energy sources is not only technically possible but combined with the smart use of energy, can deliver half of the world's energy needs by 2050.  Using the same base year as the IEA report, the Energy Revolution also states that for Southeast Asia to make a difference in the fight to save the climate, its developing nation members must cut its carbon dioxide emission by as much as 30% by 2050. 

The future of renewable energy development in the region will strongly depend on political choices by both individual governments and regional body Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  Time is running out and the right policy support for the massive uptake of renewables is still at the bottom of ASEAN's list.  It must set strong renewable energy targets and policies and develop comprehensive energy efficient measures to bring down fuel consumption even as the region sustains economic development.

The consensus among experts is that fundamental change in the way we use energy should happen within the next ten years in order to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

With the overwhelming scientific consensus now agrees that climate change is happening, is caused in large part by human activities (such as burning fossil fuels), and if left un-checked, will have disastrous consequences for the developing countries of Southeast Asia.

For the sake of a sound environment, political stability and thriving economies, it is the responsibility of ASEAN and its governments to commit to a truly secure and sustainable energy future - a future built on clean technologies, economic development and the creation of millions of new jobs.