The much-awaited Southeast Asia Climate Outlook 2022 Survey Report garnered nearly 1,400 respondents from across various cities, professions, and walks of life in Southeast Asia. The survey asked around 38 questions on the topics of climate change issues, policies, energy transition and food security, and international climate cooperation – ultimately in the hope of providing a perspective into the sentiments of ASEAN citizens on climate change. In this launch webinar, the survey results were shared by Climate Change in Southeast Asia Programme (CCSEAP) Coordinator Ms. Sharon Seah, and a discussion was set in motion by experts Dr. Helena Varkkey from the University of Malaya, Dr. Indra Overland from the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and Ms. Johanna Son from Reporting ASEAN.
CLIMATE CHANGE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA LAUNCH WEBINAR
Thursday, 8 September 2022 – The webinar began with welcome remarks from ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute Director and CEO Mr. Choi Shing Kwok and opening remarks from the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Sustainability and Environment of Singapore, Mr. Stanley Loh.
Mr. Choi Shing Kwok commended regional efforts towards decarbonisation and praised groundbreaking collaborative initiatives such as the ASEAN Taxonomy for Sustainable Finance and the Laos-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project (LTMS-PIP). Current plans towards climate mitigation, however, continue to have their shortcomings: Mr. Choi reiterated that the renewable energy share in ASEAN’s projected energy mix is not on track to meet the region’s 2025 target. As such, the Southeast Asia Climate Outlook Survey Report has been released annually to answer the following questions: to what extent are Southeast Asian citizens aware of the need for green transitions? How do they perceive it, and what would their own aspirations be?
Mr. Stanley Loh proceeded to congratulate ISEAS for once again taking on the challenge of answering these questions: to quote, “Understanding is the key first step to addressing any problem.” Indeed, while every part of the world will face the negative impacts of climate change, Mr. Loh emphasized Southeast Asia’s position as one of the world’s hardest hit – thus driving Singapore to put regional climate cooperation in the spotlight. Mr. Loh shared Singapore’s past and present initiatives, including supporting other countries and their officials through the Climate Action Package under the Singapore Cooperation Programme. More recently, Singapore worked on strengthening bilateral ties with both Indonesia and Brunei with greener economies for all parties as the primary motive. Mr. Loh viewed the Southeast Asia Climate Outlook 2022 Survey Report as a valuable resource for policymakers moving forward.
To begin the discussion on the survey results, Ms. Sharon Seah first shared an overview of the respondents’ profiles. This consisted of the country breakdown, age groups, gender, affiliations, as well as new profile indicators such as type of city and socio-economic status, among others. The types of media most often used to view climate news were also shared, which piqued the interests of all the discussants. Ms. Son noted that “messaging app channels”, which was not an option in the 2021 survey, was selected by 15.0% of respondents alongside a considerable proportion who consume social media (21.3%), representing a behavioural shift within society. She cited TikTok being used to share news as a prime example. Dr. Varkkey noted the similarity of the report to her own survey which revealed Malaysians also get their information about haze pollution from social media. She then brought up the importance of digital education to combat the spread of inaccurate information. Finally, Dr. Overland reflected on the grievances of existing power structures, citing that older people tend to consume traditional forms of media. The youth have gained more access to information via less traditional methods yet continue to hold less influence in climate action and decisions.
Ms. Seah proceeded to present respondents’ perceptions on climate change and government policy. In this section, survey questions asked about who has and who should be initiating climate responses, the individual’s own role against climate change, and what areas should be prioritised. Dr. Varkkey noted that the current political instability in Malaysia could have affected their confidence in government climate policy. She suggested for Malaysian policymakers to be more clear and concise when describing climate initiatives and use terms that are more transparent to citizens. Ms. Son noted that individual responsibility is low and posited that this may be due to feelings of helplessness. Similar to Dr. Varkkey’s suggestion, Ms. Son stated: “There’s power in information.” Dr. Overland, on the other hand, was surprised at the number of respondents who had stated that the main challenge to decarbonisation was the lack of financial support. He argued that although the developing world has a tendency to feel constrained by financial capacity and subscribe to the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities, oftentimes, successful policies can be affordable. For example, creating bike lanes instead of building more roads would prove both effective and low-cost. Climate transition should not just be seen as a burden, but rather a long-term economic opportunity. Dr. Varkkey agreed with this, commending how Malaysia had recently removed its conditions on climate action to receiving international support.
On perceptions of energy, Ms. Seah reported that among sources of clean energy, solar, hydro and wind power are perceived as having the greatest potential in the region. Referring to the ongoing debate on the sustainability of hydropower, Dr. Varkkey suggested that future surveys can ask about an individual’s perception of how “clean” or “green” each source of energy is. Ms. Son raised the question of how energy transitions would affect the daily lives of Southeast Asians and their awareness of climate change. She also mentioned the importance of adding food security as a topic in the survey as it served as it encouraged individual reflection: how would climate change affect the way I live? Dr. Overland saw a paradox in the resistance to phasing out coal. While Indonesia was expected to express hesitation in coal reduction, the Philippines, too, had almost the same level of resistance in spite of being a net importer of coal.
Ms. Seah proceeded to summarise respondents’ views on climate cooperation. She noted that over half of respondents feel that Singapore had the most potential to be ASEAN’s climate leader. Dr. Varkkey commented that she was not surprised by this result, but suggested that Indonesia may be better placed to lead the region by example, as Singapore’s circumstances as a city-state and contributions are highly unique in the region.
At the global level, the EU is seen as a leader in helping the world achieve its climate goals, but when it comes to partners for climate cooperation, respondents prefer Japan and the US. Dr. Overland expressed surprise that Japan and the US were seen as potential partners. US climate leadership is often hindered by its domestic politics, while Japan is known to have played a key role in undermining progress in international climate negotiations. Ms. Seah remarked that Southeast Asians may have a more optimistic view of Japan’s partnership due to its long track record of providing official development assistance to the region. Dr. Varkkey added that the EU’s engagement with the region on palm oil has led to tension with some Southeast Asian countries.
During the Q&A session, the panellists addressed questions relating to the influence of the Ukraine-Russia conflict on perceptions of coal and rising concerns over extreme weather events. The webinar drew an audience of over 90 participants.
A recording of the webinar can be viewed here.