Southeast Asian environmental activists – including young counterparts to teenage activist and Time magazine person of the year Greta Thunberg – are concerned they are not getting the attention that the climate emergency deserves, complaining that the region's authorities are leaving this month’s climate negotiations in Madrid, also known as COP25, without committing to new climate action plans for 2020, as other nations have done.
The negotiations are meant to find a way to carry out the plans, agreed to in Paris in 2015, to cut global greenhouse gas emissions. However they have broken down as negotiators cannot agree on how much rich nations should spend to support poor nations to enact the plans.
Many Southeast Asian governments want such supporting funds but their constituents also say the governments need to promise more dramatic emissions decreases.
“The situation is critical: our youth are mobilizing and striking because they know that there are only 10 years left for governments to act for them to have a decent future,” Sarah Elago, a member of the Philippine House of Representatives, said.
“Why is it that children are doing more than the governing adults?”
Like the Philippines, almost every nation in Southeast Asia has islands or long coastlines, making them particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Consequently, the region's activists are particularly concerned that their governments did not offer forceful action plans at COP25, formally known as the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which was supposed to conclude on December 13 but continues as of press time.
Activists have exerted pressure on regional governments to offer a climate action plan but those governments say they are doing their best, as developing countries that did not create the problem.
Some say there is little point in offering action when there is none from the United States, the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions until being recently overtaken by China.
Developing nations around the Asia Pacific and elsewhere are paying the price because of polluting industrialized nations, according to Basav Sen, climate policy director at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies.
“Our country, as a matter of policy, prioritizes enriching its oil and gas industry over preserving the ecosystems upon which billions of people rely for their food, water and homes,” he wrote in an op-ed for the newspaper USA Today.
He recommended “responsible world governments could publicly shame the U.S. government for its climate policies.”
Southeast Asia must do more, however, Abel Da Silva, a member East Timor's National Parliament, said.
“We cannot stay on the sidelines of this catastrophe,” said Da Silva. “Southeast Asia is contributing to climate change through its reliance on coal, its deforestation and haze crisis, and its lack of ambition in its climate action plans.”
The region has to “reverse this shameful historical trend and right our past wrongs on the climate,” he said.
Nations generally submit action plans on how they will decrease greenhouse gas emissions at the annual U.N. climate conference. Although nations do other things to deal with climate change, such as constructing walls against rising water levels, emissions are the main issue.
Laos, which is trying to develop hydropower dams as a main industry, is the only Southeast Asian nation to set a goal of zero net carbon emissions by 2050 – it is also the only nation in the region that is landlocked.