Can Asia-Pacific countries be champions of climate action, even as their emission levels rise?

Can Asia-Pacific countries be champions of climate action, even as their emission levels rise?

Asia-Pacific governments have for years felt the heat for being laggards on climate action, but as 2020 winds down – all things considered, amid the turmoil of Covid-19 – the region is entering the new year having sent strong signals about addressing emissions and embracing renewable energy.

Central to the buoyant year-end mood is the pledge in October by the triumvirate of major regional carbon-dioxide emitters – China, South Korea and Japan – to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by the middle of this century, according to analysts. With these additions, 110 countries have joined the informal “net zero by 2050” coalition, although the pledge by China – the world’s largest source of annual emissions – is effective in 2060.

At the southern tip of the Asia-Pacific, New Zealand – which has also made the pledge – has gone one step further. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this past week declared a “climate emergency” and promised that the country’s governmental sector would become carbon neutral by 2025, well ahead of the 2050 target.

Also getting the thumbs up from observers are recent indications by the Philippines, Bangladesh and Vietnam, among developing countries once seen as intransigent about coal use, that they are willing to make the shift towards cleaner energy.