Webinar on “Southeast Asia Climate Outlook Survey 2020: Results and Analysis”

In this webinar, the Climate Change in Southeast Asia Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, launches the report for its first ever Southeast Asia Climate Outlook Survey, through a presentation of its findings and a discussion panel. The Survey is the first to take a Southeast-Asia focused approach to climate change perceptions.


Thursday, 17 December 2020 – The Southeast Asia Climate Outlook Survey 2020 results were presented by Ms Melinda Martinus, Lead Researcher at the ASEAN Studies Centre; and discussed by a panel consisting of Professor Jeff Obbard, Visiting Professor at the School of Water, Energy & Environment at Cranfield University and Founder of Living Planet (Singapore), Ms Melissa Low, Research Fellow at the Energy Studies Institute, National University of Singapore and Ms Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar, Co-founder of climate justice movement Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY). The discussion was moderated by Ms Sharon Seah, Coordinator of the Climate Change in Southeast Asia Programme and ASEAN Studies Centre.

the Southeast Asia Climate Outlook 2020 Survey Report
Ms Melinda Martinus presented the Southeast Asia Climate Outlook 2020 Survey Report. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The presentation of the results covered climate mitigation, adaptation, governance, advocacy and private sector roles in Southeast Asia. Of note was the finding that floods, loss of biodiversity and sea level rise are the top three perceived climate change impacts. In addition, national governments, individuals and businesses and industries were deemed the most responsible for tackling climate change. The majority of respondents also wanted governments to prioritise COVID-19 recovery and the climate emergency equally.

Responding to the latter finding, Professor Obbard emphasised that though the pandemic has made 2020 a particularly challenging year, the focus on climate action cannot be compromised. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report recommends a green recovery to increase chances of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Ms Low shared her concerns about misconceptions that climate action and economic recovery are mutually exclusive, and that the eventual rebound in travel will reach or even exceed pre-COVID-19 levels; which calls for close attention on global economic recovery in the coming months. She also recommended that all government measures, beyond targets specific to climate or economic recovery, should be carefully monitored; because comprehensive climate action should involve all aspects of society.  

As 78.7% of survey respondents were in favour of cutting fossil subsidies, Ms Low cautioned that it would be extremely challenging, especially in Southeast Asia, where the existing structures of energy sectors, political relationships with sources of foreign direct investment and coal’s cost competitiveness to natural gas are significant barriers. One alternative is carbon pricing which would signal to companies the need to increase energy efficiency. To do this, assessments of carbon pricing and its potential implementation must be undertaken by every country to ensure its feasibility. Taking a broad view of the private sector, Professor Obbard observed that leading companies are gravitating towards sustainable practices. Referring to strong concerns for the climate among youth survey respondents, he said that youths are major drivers of the increasing demand for green products. Meanwhile, scientists and engineers can work with investors to identify legitimately sustainable companies, and advise companies on improving their sustainability performance while achieving cost reductions. Crucially, such progress cannot be had without top-level endorsement within companies.

When it comes to climate advocacy, participation varies widely between countries, something that climate activists like Ms Dzulfakar are addressing. She explained that the pandemic spurred climate activists to build networks and movements through online webinars, training and capacity-building sessions. Reaching across borders has allowed for trans-national collaboration like the Asia Climate Rally, but it has also introduced the challenge of understanding and processing the climate struggles of other societies — stressors like this can take a mental health toll on climate activists. In addition, many younger activists lack the capacity to compete with more established organisations. The Asian coalition of youth activists is one-way activists aim to provide capacity building for securing funds to smaller groups and ensure that the climate justice movement can sustain itself in the coming decades.

When asked about security threats caused by climate impacts, Professor Obbard asserted the need to bolster food security, energy security and support for displaced communities. In order to build resilience, ASEAN countries must facilitate the sharing of precise scientific data. Ms Dzulfakar added that an intersectional lens is indispensable in building resilience. Governments should seek the input of vulnerable communities, and ASEAN dialogues should include national human rights institutions which are mandated to connect with civil society organisations, run field research and engage with vulnerable communities like indigenous groups, fisherfolk and farmers at the grassroots level.

The webinar drew an audience of 76 participants. During the Q&A session, the panellists discussed environmental drivers of emerging infectious diseases, updated Nationally Determined Contributions from ASEAN countries and ASEAN’s potential for nature-based climate solutions.

The full Survey report can be accessed here.

Professor Jeff Obbard, Ms Melissa Low, and Ms Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar
Over 70 participants attended the webinar. Professor Jeff Obbard, Ms Melissa Low, and Ms Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar examined the survey results. Ms Sharon Seah moderated the session. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)