Asia economies urged to build climate mitigation measures into post-pandemic policies

A man wearing a face mask walk in front of a closed store front with advertisements for property rentals in downtown Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Oct 18, 2021. (VINCENT THIAN / AP)

Climate change may be an abstract issue for many, but environmental anthropologist Serina Abdul Rahman points out how erratic weather patterns are threatening the livelihoods of vulnerable populations, citing the case of a coastal community in Johor that is grappling with reduced fish catches.

Serina, a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, works with fisherfolk in the southern Malaysian state and has seen first-hand how  stronger typhoons and rising sea levels have brought home the crisis for people dependent on the ocean for their survival.

“In the past, some of these changes could be assumed to be the result of coastal development. But in 2021, this does not apply as everything had ground to a halt due to COVID-19. Yet we see a drastic reduction in fish catch,” she said.

Serina said this is why it is “incredibly important” to promote a green post-pandemic recovery for economies to ensure sustainability and protect livelihoods.

“The writing is on the wall. If we don’t slow down our carbon emissions, the glaciers will melt faster. If we dredge marine areas, we release more carbon from seagrass beds. The same applies to mangrove forests which are often cleared for coastal development,” she said.

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As Asian nations slowly recover from the pandemic, conducting mass vaccinations and reopening their economies, it is important for policy-makers to include climate adaptation and mitigation measures in their policy planning, analysts said.

Decarbonization of the economy was in fact a key theme at recent high-level talks in the region. At the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting hosted by New Zealand, the leaders’ summit ended on Nov 12 with a declaration acknowledging the need for “urgent and concrete action to transition to a climate-resilient future global economy”.

At the Nov 16 virtual meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden, Xi said climate change can well become a new highlight of China-US cooperation. The two countries agreed to boost climate cooperation during the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, that concluded on Nov 12 in Glasgow, Scotland.

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us to recognize that many of our assumptions on what is essential in society need re-configuration. It has highlighted the need to urgently re-organize society towards one that is both ecologically sustainable and socially just.

Cesar Carlito Baclagon, regional finance campaigner at, an international environmental group

“The COVID-19 pandemic taught us to recognize that many of our assumptions on what is essential in society need re-configuration. It has highlighted the need to urgently re-organize society towards one that is both ecologically sustainable and socially just,” said Cesar Carlito Baclagon, regional finance campaigner at, an international environmental group.

Baclagon said the pandemic has shown that it was the poor who are more vulnerable to the risk of contracting the disease and to the lockdown-induced closures of businesses. He said it is also the poor who are suffering from the impact of climate change.

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific said in its Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2021 that over the past 50 years, natural hazards in the region have affected 6.9 billion people and killed more than 2 million. In East Asia, the frequency of heatwaves and tropical cyclones is increasing while Central Asia is suffering from drought. Floods, droughts, and cyclones have intensified in Southeast Asia and South Asia.

Saleemul Huq, director of the Bangladesh-based think tank International Centre for Climate Change and Development, said a climate-resilient economic rebound is important given that Asia is not only one of the most vulnerable to climate change but also among the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters.

He said his country, Bangladesh, is among the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change, so “we are taking adaptation and building resilience as a major pathway”. Saleemul cited the Bangladesh energy ministry’s decision to cancel plans to build 10 coal-fired power plants and how the nation is developing wind power plants.

Other Asian countries are likewise shifting to renewables and gradually reducing their use of fossil fuel to reduce emissions and fulfill their commitments to the Paris climate treaty. Delegates to the COP26 also agreed to phase down coal and committed to end deforestation by 2030.

Xi said in his APEC speech that China will “advance green transition” and contribute to ecological conservation in the Asia-Pacific region. He reiterated China’s plan to hit peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his nation will achieve net-zero emissions by 2070 and that renewable energy sources will account for about half of the country’s power generation by 2030.  

“I think that India will play a major role and will galvanize people for equitable carbon space,” said Anjal Prakash, who was the coordinating lead author in the IPCC’s special report on oceans and cryosphere in a changing climate.

D. D. Ramanandan, general secretary of the All India Coal Workers Federation, said he followed the COP to see “if India pledges for transition because then the process will begin here and it will impact workers, land users, entire towns and villages. This is a big issue."

"Local communities still don't believe a future beyond coal is possible. But we need to prepare ourselves," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It is important to control carbon emissions and coal will end — if not in 20, then 50 years.”

South Korea has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 40 percent from the 2018 levels by 2030. President Moon Jae-in said the country will end coal-fired power generation by 2050.  South Korea also joined the Global Methane Pledge at COP26, a global pact to cut methane emissions by more than 30 percent by 2030 from 2020 levels.

Indonesia will stop building coal-fired power plants after 2023 and is set to impose carbon tax in 2022. President Joko Widodo said Indonesia is rehabilitating 600,000 hectares of mangrove forests until 2024, developing the country’s tropical forests into a carbon net sink by 2030.

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Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said the country aims to reach carbon neutrality in 2050. The state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand said a 45-MW floating solar farm in the northeastern province of Ubon Ratchatani is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of around 47,000 tons per year.

Baclagon of said responding to the climate crisis “demands swift and unprecedented action” not only from national governments but also from the international community as well.

“The recently concluded COP26 has resulted in agreements that show only incremental steps forward rather than the monumental leaps needed to ensure a livable planet for all. This is where inter-governmental forums like the APEC could help bridge the gaps for insubstantial outcomes that were achieved during COP26,” he said.

Yang Han and Xu Weiwei in Hong Kong contributed to this report.