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Southeast Asia’s poor will carry the APEC burden

Joseph Allchin
Nov 16, 2009 (DVB), Despite much hand-shaking between leaders at the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit, hopes of a binding agreement on reducing carbon emissions were lost.

The impact of climate change on the Southeast Asia region has been brought into sharp relief this year after massive storms and flooding destroyed swathes of land stretching from the Philippines to Vietnam.

For Burma, cyclone Nargis is still painfully etched into the collective memory, and the failure to reach an agreement last week this is a worrying sign for a poor country whose coast has been ravaged all-too recently.

Stephen Thompson, from the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN), which works in Burma's eastern Karen state, said that failure to act could be "disastrous" for Burma.

"The Irrawaddy is one of the largest silt carrying rivers in the world, and all that land will be washed away," he said, adding that "cyclones usually [hit Burma] every ten years, and in the last decade we've had three, including Nargis".

His concerns have been echoed elsewhere: "Any failure to address climate change soon and forcefully will certainly impact on people around Southeast Asia, and those impacts will definitely fall on the poor people the worst," says Marty Berghofen from EarthRights International.

Indeed some had blamed indecision on the part of the United States over defining their cuts as one of the major stumbling blocks. Differences in opinion about whether developing nations should enact cuts has however also been viewed as a major problem area.

Many developing nations, particularly India and China, have claimed that they need to emit carbon to be able to develop. They also claim that they are not to blame for the impending crisis, instead that emissions from developed nations are the key cause for climate concerns.

Abigail Edgar, from the London-based Campaign Against Climate Change, told DVB that there was a possibility that the G77 countries [a grouping of 180 developing countries] "will walk out of the Copenhagen talks".

"The way that it will be just is for the global north to make the biggest cuts and to fund adaptation in the global south," she said.

Proposals had suggested that leaders would agree to a 50 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2050 before the upcoming global climate change summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. This was dropped by leaders at the APEC summit, who instead said that the Copenhagen talks would be a "staging post" to send out a "strong message".

Michael Froman, from the US National Security Council, said that "it was unrealistic to expect a full, internationally legally binding agreement" before Copenhagen.

But for Steven Thompson, the reasons were predominantly economic. "No greenhouse gas production in the long term is viable [but] no countries developing or developed want to address that," he said. "The whole growth paradigm needs to be challenged."

Obama is now in China, where the leaders of the two biggest carbon-emitting nations will hold talks which many view as crucial for any hopes of success at next month's Copenhagen talks.