The jarring disconnect between government action on climate change and grassroots support for meaningful action has spread rapidly from the United States to Asia. The past month has seen a wave of ministers and spokespeople hastening to emphasize that their country will not commit to any binding resolutions at Copenhagen. Most recently, the 19 leaders at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation stated that Copenhagen was too soon to reach any agreement on emissions.
As Asian governments back away from Copenhagen commitments en bloc, it is increasingly obvious that they do so not only against their own long-term interests, but over the objections of many coalitions within their borders. Unlike the U.S., where climate change skepticism is alive and well, the overwhelming preponderance of citizens’ groups and nonprofits that have reached the news on this issue oppose their government’s inaction. The World Wildlife Fund branch in Singapore put it quite bluntly: climate change “is already shattering cities across developing Asia and will be even more brutal in the future.” Local organizations such as the Third World Network and the Sri Lanka National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, in the news for their dire warnings on climate change, must feel bewildered at the inertia going into Copenhagen.
What is it going to take for think tanks, academics and popular movements in Asia to get the attention of their governments? It is not too late for constructive dialog to occur, but every milestone such as Copenhagen that is passed without action makes it increasingly unlikely. In the long run, the specter of climate change-based unrest should make the ministers at Copenhagen far more nervous than short-term concerns about economic viability.