“For decades, Asian leaders largely ignored climate change. It’s a Western problem, we said. They caused the problem by dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; let them clean it up,” write former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed and former President of East Timor José Ramos-Horta in the South China Morning Post.
“Instead, we Asian leaders focused on reducing poverty by growing our economies. We were not responsible for the pollution, we argued; so we should not have to pay for it. Yes, Asia’s industrialisation was quietly building up toxic stores of carbon, but we were only following the rich world’s prescription for success. Carbon equals growth, it said; and, like those who took up smoking on the doctor’s orders, we were not to blame.
There was a time when the assumptions underpinning this line of thinking were true. Not any more.
Climate change has become malignant. It threatens to blunt Asia’s growth and upend our development. Climate scientists are increasingly certain that catastrophic weather events – such as the 2011 floods in Thailand, one of history’s costliest disasters, or last year’s Typhoon Haiyan, which killed thousands of people in the Philippines – will become more frequent and intense.
From small island states to delta settlements, Asia is the climate front line. Seven of the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change are in Asia and the Pacific. Millions of Asians are at risk. It falls to Asian governments, whose primary responsibility is to protect their citizens, to respond.”