EU-ASEAN Action on Climate Change: IFAIR Discusses with Experts and Policy-Makers

EU-ASEAN Action on Climate Change: IFAIR Discusses with Experts and Policy-Makers

Are the EU and ASEAN strategic partners in tackling climate change? They can be, said experts at IFAIR’s panel discussion held in Brussels, which engaged high-level policy-makers and academics with the ideas of young people from Europe and Southeast Asia.

Climate change is one of the focal sectors for strengthening interregional cooperation in the new EU joint communication “The EU and ASEAN: A partnership with a strategic purpose.” At the same time, in the upcoming 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP 21), the International Community faces a deadline for deciding on a new global, legally binding climate agreement.

The European Union (EU) is one of the world’s frontrunners in the fight against global warming. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) represents one of the most vulnerable regions to the effects of climate change. While the EU and ASEAN seem to be important partners, substantial differences in the socio-economic development level of member states currently reduce region-to-region cooperation to the lowest common denominator.

IFAIR wanted to ask whether the EU and ASEAN can work together at COP21 and if there are alternatives for interregional cooperation away from the UN negotiations table. To this end, the initiative, in cooperation with the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) and Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) Brussels, organised a panel debate bringing together representatives of both regions: H.E. Victoria S Bataclan, Ambassador of the Republic of the Philippines to Belgium and the European Union, Dr Yeo Lay Hwee, Director of the EU Centre in Singapore, Ranieri Sabatucci, Head of Asia and Pacific Department at the European External Action Service as well as Agathe Schibler, participant of IFAIR’s 2nd EU-ASEAN Perspectives Dialogue and co-author of the project group’s policy paper.

Sense of urgency

The EU-ASEAN Perspectives Dialogues are organized by IFAIR to bring together young researchers from ASEAN and EU countries. In the current, second edition, young researchers and practitioners from both regions have brought up new suggestions to the debate on various policy fields, including climate change: Their newly released policy paper discusses broad developments, such as the megatrend of urbanisation and the role of local actors, as well as practical ways forward, such as the untapped potential of city-to-city partnerships between EU and ASEAN. As a concluding event of the project, the panel debate picked up on these ideas.

The introductory remarks conveyed a sense of urgency and importance of EU-ASEAN cooperation on climate change. Axel Goethals, Chief Executive Officer of EIAS, and Katharina Patzelt, Programme Manager for Development Policy and International Cooperation of HSF Brussels highlighted the timeliness of the topic against the background of the looming COP21 summit. Kilian Spandler, IFAIR’s Regional Director for South and East Asia, noted the relevance of a dialogue between EU and ASEAN on the issue, as climate is rarely discussed from this interregional perspective. This point was reinforced by Nelly Stratieva, executive member of IFAIR’s Dialogue group and moderator of the debate: As she observed, events about EU-ASEAN relations usually focus on trade, rather than environmental topics.

Cooperation on all levels

The discussion was started off by Agathe Schibler: Emphasising the need for new approaches to tackling climate change interregionally, she suggested both bottom up as well as transnational approaches as new means for cooperation on combating climate change. The former includes both the role of civil society organizations in raising awareness and focusing policy-makers’ attention on the issue, and the involvement of the private sector through public private partnerships (PPP). For the latter, Mrs. Schibler suggested to increase connectivity on a crossregional level and the building of new linkages beyond the state or region level. This could include city-to-city partnerships, already a successful instrument in EU-China cooperation. These suggestions are elaborated in more detail in the dialogue group’s policy paper.

In the following debate, the Dr. Yeo welcomed the recommendations as a contribution to lifting EU-ASEAN cooperation to a strategic level. However, all interregional efforts should be situated firmly within the UNFCC framework. Reacting to the suggestion of focusing on PPPs, she argued that the bankability of projects and long-run profitability always had to be taken into account. In this respect, the EU should help ASEAN build up capacity.

As Matthias Reusing from the European Commission Directorate-General for Development Cooperation noted during the subsequent discussion, the EU has important projects in the pipeline in this respect: SWITCH Asia, for example, helps businesses to promote a green economy, while the Asia Investment Facility could provide a means to leverage these pilot projects and scale them up for broad impact.

H.E. Bataclan further underscored the potential of subregional linkages: Taking note of the policy paper’s argument that, out of 147 city partnerships of Southeast Asian megacities, not even ten are with European counterparts, she indicated that several major Philippine cities are currently fostering ties with European cities. Overall, H.E. Bataclan stressed the importance of a coherent framework mainstreaming sustainability concerns into development policies.

A joint declaration on climate change?

Ranieri Sabatucci commented on the suggestion of a region-to-region approach: On the one hand, the climate change debate constitutes a prime example of a challenging global policy making issue. On the other, regional integration processes are well-placed to play a special role in tackling them due to the inherent nature of cooperation within them.

Still, interests diverge both between and within the EU and ASEAN. Mr Sabatucci noted the development lag of the Lower Mekong Region as a particular challenge in this respect, and one that calls for EU-engagement with sub-regional entities. One potential point of learning from the European experience for ASEAN in this respect is the necessity of solidarity within regions: “We had a similar problem in Europe before. To help this region, we could share the European experiences on integration processes.”

In the debate with the audience, the panelists noted the relevance to see the challenges of climate change as well as an economic opportunity – as part of an ongoing green revolution where reducing CO2 emissions is no longer perceived as growth threat. Still, the agenda for this green revolution has to be situated in a bottom up approach: As was argued from the audience, recognizing the intrinsic value of nature, although an old and powerful narrative, has to be brought back on the agenda by civil society organizations informing the positions of policy makers in both EU and ASEAN.

Finally, the panelists commented on potential steps ahead: To stimulate both the climate change debate and EU-ASEAN relations, H.E. Bataclan called for a joint policy framework of the EU and ASEAN on climate change, ideally before COP21. “We can have an EU-ASEAN statement on climate change. ASEAN just had it with the US and the US had it with China. So why not? We should just start working on it”, she said. This idea was well received by the audience and endorsed by Mr Sabatucci.