Whilst the terms ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ are now frequently heard in a number of contexts, whether that be in a professional environment, the classroom, or in your Facebook newsfeed, it can sometimes be difficult to understand why such notions are so alarming – the opportunist may just see these changes as an excuse to flaunt their favourite t-shirt for a few more days a year. However, the ramifications of climate change go far beyond a jacket collecting more dust in your wardrobe. Changes in climate induced by a warming planet are anticipated to spark challenges in social, economic, and political conditions across the globe, particularly within the ASEAN region. In light of this, as a simple game theory model suggests, collaboration of partners within ASEAN, although not always perceived as the easiest and most lucrative path in the short-term, will ultimately be the most rewarding approach, and will play an essential role in harnessing future regional stability and prosperity.
The Natural Science behind Global Warming
Climate change refers to a change in the global or regional climatic patterns, prompted by a warming planet, which can be attributed to increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. As is explained by Al Gore in his book, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to the Power, the sun emits energy in the form of light, which the earth absorbs, inevitably warming it. Some of this heat energy is converted to infra-red radiation that is reflected back into space. For many years, this process has been controlled by a natural layer of greenhouse gases, which traps some of the heat inside the atmosphere, to keep earth at the ideal temperature to support life. However, in the past few years, the thickness of this once natural greenhouse gas layer has increased, trapping in heat, and thus warming the planet. This transformation is predominantly due to the burning of fossil fuels, which provides most of the energy for transportation, electricity usage, and a vast range of industrial activity.
Climate Change and ASEAN
A myriad of studies have demonstrated that ASEAN residents will be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change for a number of reasons. Firstly, from a geographical perspective, a large percentage of the population in the region resides in coastal areas. For example, in Indonesia, 75 major cities, and 80 percent of the county’s industries, are situated in coastal areas. Rising sea levels, in addition to increased flood potential, are just a few of the climate-induced devastations expected to impact these areas. Flooding, typhoons, cyclones, and other extreme-weather related disasters, are also likely to ravage these regions at an unprecedented rate.
However, the impacts of climate change are not only limited to the coastal lying regions within ASEAN. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has recognised a number of risks that global warming creates, some of which will challenge food security in the region. Research has suggested that a warmer planet will likely lead to a decrease in crop yields, due to an increasing CO2 fertilisation, in addition to a higher variability in precipitation, leading to flooding and droughts. For example, a study in 2005 published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggested that a 2-degree temperature increase induced by global warming could decrease the current rice yield in the region by 17 percent. Such devastations are likely to impact international relations within the region, through catalysing migration, and creating issues relating to food security. This is especially palpable within South East Asia, where high instances of poverty make adaption and response more difficult.
Whilst the exact impacts of climate change are unknown, there is now little doubt that there will be change, and that the unpredictable nature of this change, is central to its detriment. The question then turns to what can be done to address climate change.
A well-known game theory, ‘the Prisoner’s Dilemma’, has been said to encapsulate the dichotomy in climate change mitigation strategies – the independent conflicts, but overall necessity, for collaboration. In an increasingly capitalist world, whereby much emphasis is placed on economic growth, there is great incentive and pressure for countries to increase growth in the short term. Whilst economic growth is often looked on favourably for a reason – it can help lift individuals out of poverty, and increase living standards, unrestrained and unregulated growth is usually coupled with higher levels of c02 expulsion, in addition to increased pollution, both of which are detrimental to the environment, and ultimately, lead to the warming of the planet.
In the short term, defecting countries that fail to significantly reduce emissions, perhaps in an attempt to achieve higher growth rates, will likely receive a competitive advantage over those nations that are restrained in their growth models. However, if all countries decide to defect and undertake unregulated economic activities (which are associated with an increased production of green house gases) the repercussions would likely be devastating – the impacts of climate change revealing themselves sooner, and in more severe forms.
In the long-term, the best-case scenario for all countries would be to commit to climate mitigation and collaborate together. Whilst research suggests that much of the climate damage is already locked in, co-operation and a reduction in emissions will certainly reduce this impact. Consequently, although some countries within the region will arguably be more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, it is in the best interests of the neighbouring regions that their counterparts are stable. A plethora of academic discourse illustrates the impact that humanitarian crises, mass migration, and food security may play in undoing peace within a region. This is undoubtedly exacerbated in an increasingly globalised environment.
Whilst on a fundamental level, thee prisoner’s dilemma model seems applicable to the notion of climate change mitigation, it would be puerile to reduce a very complex scientific, social, political and economic problem to a game-theory model. However, there is value in getting back to the basics. Ultimately, it is only through co-operation and collaboration that productive strategies targeting climate-change can be formulated.
In light of this, it is interesting to consider ASEANs role in climate change mitigation policy, especially as a region that will bear a large proportion of the burden of climate change. Since the Singapore Summit in 2007, ASEAN has listed climate change as a priority issue. As it stands today, all the ASEAN member states have signed the Paris agreement and ratified the Kyoto Protocol – landmark global frameworks in the way of climate mitigation. There has also been a number of ASEAN specific inititatives, including the establishment of the ASEAN Climate Change Initiative (ACCI) and the ASEAN Working Group on Climate Change (AWGCC), in addition to the Joint Response to Climate (AAPJRC) in 2012. However, as the report by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and Myanmar Institute of International and Strategic Studies illudes to, many ASEAN countries have taken the backseat in influential climate-change negotiations, letting their european counterparts lead the way. Furthermore, a regional climate framework, with specific goals, and a robust accountability mechanism, has not yet been established.
The report suggests a few reasons as to why this might be the case. Most convincing is the notion that stringent adherence to the ‘ASEAN way’ promotes national sovereignity, and principles of non-interference, which at first instance, may appear to conflict with a strong regional agenda on climate change mitigation. As a result, it has been said that the ASEAN secretariat is waiting for nation-states to take the lead and determine their own capabilities and goals. However, as the report recognises, the Paris agreements and the Kyoto protocol respectively incorporate mechanisms where nationally determined contributions are prized. A regional mitigation strategy which honours these elements, would not interefere with the ASEAN way. The report suggests several pratical ways in which ASEAN could act on climate change to achieve better results and enhance regional collaboration, whilst staying true to the core values of the organisation. Such strategies certainly seem plausible, but will not be achieved without capacity building and increased funding – which inturn can only be attained through a genuine commitment and interest in climate mitigation, exercised and vocalised by all partners within the region.
Overall, ASEAN currently sits at a fork in the road, presented with a variety of options in terms of climate change responses. The path towards further collaboration with a genuine focus on climate change mitigation will not be without its bumps, but appears to offer the greatest rewards at the end of the journey. Taking a strong stance on climate change mitigation will not only set the stage for ASEAN to assert its postion and influence globally, but will minimise the impacts of a problem that, whether just or not, will have the greatest strain on the economic, political, and social systems of its own nation states.
Comparing a complex issue such as climate change, to a simple game theory model may seem futile. But the overarching lesson from ‘the prisoner’s dilemma’ resonates with ASEANs current position in tackling climate change. Ultimately, the greatest benefit for the region will be achieved only through co-operation.
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This article was written by Miranda Traeger, an undergraduate student of Bachelor of Law and Arts at the University of Adelaide, while working as an intern at Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).