The Arctic and Southeast Asia

Page - March 14, 2013
Southeast Asia is already suffering from climate change-induced disruptions in monsoon patterns; more frequent and more destructive typhoons in some parts of the region and extreme drought in others. Rising sea levels put low-lying, coastal areas and river systems at risk as well as making them more vulnerable to storms. The impacts of runaway climate are unbearable for the poorest majority of Southeast Asians who are the least responsible. We now know what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. Protecting the ice means protecting us all.

The crew of the Greenpeace ship MY Arctic Sunrise construct a 'heart' with the flags of the 193 country members of the United Nations on an ice floe north of the Arctic Circle. The 'heart' of flags is suspended by wires a few centimetres from the ice surface and symbolizes an emotional appeal for united global action to protect the Arctic.We already know the Arctic is a unique and vulnerable environment. As well as being home to many species, the region plays a critical role in regulating the global climate, acting as the world’s refrigerator and keeping the planet cool. The Arctic ice acts as a giant mirror, bouncing sunlight and heat back into the atmosphere. The Arctic plays an important role in stabilizing our climate and seas, half a world away. Without the Arctic ice, the effects of climate change will become unstoppable.

Unfortunately, instead of addressing the climatic imbalance resulting from the melting of the Arctic ice, rich countries are looking at the loss of sea ice as a business opportunity and not as a grave warning to humanity. Because the Arctic contains significant natural resources, there is now a race to claim the riches that may lie beneath the melting ice. Big oil companies are going to the ends of the Earth to dig up the last fossil fuels. Big fishing fleets are venturing north into waters previously and naturally protected by the sea ice. Arctic States are competing to claim the areas of the sea bed underlying the Arctic Ocean.

Unless the industries are stopped from their destructive expansion, the climate crisis may worsen and end up in a potentially irreversible catastrophic scenario.

That is why in 2013 Greenpeace Southeast Asia is joining with our colleagues and nearly 3 million supporters around the world to Save the Arctic. So far, more than 10,000 people from the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Vietnam and Thailand have signed the petition. The stronger the regional support, the louder our voice can be heard.

Impacts in our region


Climate change is making the conditions under which hurricanes, cyclones, and tropical storms form more common. In very broad terms, this is because climate change is putting more energy, in the form of heat, into the world's weather systems. This energy speeds up the whole system, increasing the number and intensity of storms.


Scientific studies have already charted the Philippines, the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam, almost all regions of Cambodia, north and east Lao PDR, the metropolitan area of Bangkok, South and West Sumatra, West and East Java of Indonesia as the most vulnerable to extreme weather events.  The 2000s also saw SEA with delayed rainy season in some areas and extended monsoon in others which disrupted planting season and production in a region largely dependent on agriculture. Such climate change impacts are feared to severely threaten the life and livelihood of poor Southeast Asians who have very limited adaptive capacity.

Our governments should also see these manifestations of climate change in the region as compelling signs for strong domestic climate actions.


Solutions for a renewable future


The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, is one of the principal causes of climate change. This deadly cycle of burning coal, which eventually leads to the melting of ice, is pushing the climate to a tipping point the world may never recover from. That means the same long-term solutions that will help save the Arctic, and keep Southeast Asians safe, are also solutions than we can ask our governments to support right here. In this era of rapid economic growth we want to lead Southeast Asia into a new development paradigm, to safeguard our survival.

Majestic view of the wind farm in Bangui, Ilocos Norte, in the northern part of the Philippines. The Rainbow warrior sailed past the Bangui wind farm on 09 December 2010, on it's way to Taiwan, as it concluded it's "Turn the Tide" tour of Southeast Asia.

To achieve large-scale use of renewables, and be well on the way to low-carbon development, our governments would need to:

  • Design renewable energy policies to complement climate change policies, which encourage enough investment and help meet climate, energy security and environmental objectives.
  • Make renewable energy policies that let potential investors have confidence in the stability of the system.  
  • Remove distortionary subsidies for fossil fuel consumption and production. These subsidies often benefit more affluent segments of society rather than the poor. Removing them will help the level the playing field so that renewable energy technologies can compete with other energy carriers.