As the global balance of power shifts eastwards, Asian countries are expected to play an increasingly prominent role in world affairs. Asia is where the world makes its consumer goods and, increasingly, buys its services. Asian countries are, almost universally, enjoying relatively strong rates of growth and increased prosperity, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty and into the middle classes. But there is one looming issue that threatens to prevent Asia from completing its seemingly unstoppable march to affluence, and undo the gains it has painstakingly made. That issue is climate change.
Asia risks bearing the brunt of future climate catastrophes, as more extreme weather events threaten homes and livelihoods, undermine food security, provoke mass migration and increase the prevalence of disease. As a continent, we are woefully unprepared for this onslaught. The governor of Malaysia’s central bank recently pointed out that in 2011, Asian countries accounted for 70 per cent of the $380 billion (Dh1.4 trillion) in economic losses caused by natural disasters, but only a quarter of that was insured.
Last year’s flood in Thailand was one of the costliest natural disasters in history. Climate change threatens to make such catastrophic weather events fiercer and more frequent. With no respect for geographic boundaries, it cannot be considered just a western problem, or a rich-world problem; it is a global problem that affects every nation on Earth. It is time for Asia to be part of the solution.
I believe Malaysia can offer a new perspective. We are a developing nation. But if we hit our economic targets – and we expect to do so – we will be a developed country by 2020. Malaysia bridges the great divide in climate change negotiations: we face many of the challenges that developing nations face, but we will experience 80 per cent of the 21st century as part of the rich world. We are determined to get there not through rapacious consumption, but sustainable development. It is my hope that our development path can set a precedent for others.
We understand how difficult it is to adapt to the new climate threat, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while still pursuing economic development. We understand the competing pressures many developing nations face in balancing environmental and economic concerns: oil and gas revenues provide 40 per cent of our government revenue, and although progress has been made in recent years, we need to better combat illegal logging to ensure that we maintain our commitment to keep 50 per cent of Malaysia as permanent forest.
Malaysia’s journey captures the tensions at the heart of the climate-change problem. We are on track to reach developed status just as global carbon emissions must start falling if we hope to prevent global warming surpassing the dangerous 2°C threshold. Malaysia, like other developing countries, cannot shirk its responsibility by pleading poverty.
This is why we are working hard to meet our carbon-reduction commitments – a 40 per cent cut in emissions intensity by 2020, from 2005 levels. We aim to meet this goal through a variety of measures, all of which increase growth, create new industries and jobs, and boost prosperity.
Malaysia is a major producer of clean energy products such as solar panels and efficient LED lighting, and we have introduced a feed-in tariff to boost our domestic uptake of renewable energy and broaden our energy mix. We seek to grow and diversify these sectors, so we can lead the low carbon economy of the future.
We are also investing billions of dollars in clean energy infrastructure, such as Iskandar Malaysia, a new eco-city of three million people just across the water from Singapore. Plans are also afoot to build a South-East Asian high-speed rail network, initially connecting Kuala Lumpur with Singapore, but eventually reaching China. And Malaysia will soon become a major exporter of rare earth elements, a key ingredient of clean technology products such as hybrid cars and wind turbines: a new plant will soon produce some 20 per cent of global supply. This single factory will contribute 1 per cent to Malaysia’s GDP – underscoring the economic rationale of leading the clean economy.
The economic opportunities, should Asia show leadership on climate change, are clear. Clearer still are the consequences of inaction. As the risks to our people, our cities and our economies increase, doing nothing is no longer an option. Asia is forecast to produce 40 per cent of the world’s energy-related greenhouse gasses by the end of this decade. Western nations have brought the world to the climate precipice, but Asia must not push it over the edge.
As Asia rises, so must its climate commitment. At the current UN climate conference in Doha, Asian leaders must argue for strong and effective action on climate change. And we must be prepared to play our part in reducing emissions. Our future development demands it.