COP23 Bonn: The Climate Commitments and ASEAN

Two years have passed after the 2015 COP21 Paris, and the Conference of Parties (COP) 23 presided over by the Government of Fiji will be held in Bonn, Germany from 6 - 17 November 2017. A lot have been going on ever since, The success of making China and US committed to the Paris Agreement, and not so long ago President Donald Trump has revoked US’ commitment to lower the global emission in 2020.

COP23 will be another landmark conference after the historic Paris Climate Change Agreement in COP21 two years earlier. This year COP23 will be presided by Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, the first developing small island country to lead the forum. This gesture show the urgency of tackling climate change that causing extreme weather conditions around the world. He stated that, “Human suffering caused by intensifying hurricanes, wildfires, drought, flood, and threats to food security caused by climate change means there is no time to waste”.[i]

COP23 in Bonn will respond in two inter-linked areas of action: (1) Government working to increase climate action under the terms of Paris agreement and the UN climate change conference; (2) Showcasing, fostering and launching new and expanding global climate action initiatives by all actors with a view toward better coordination that align efforts in more efficient, effective and transformative way.

Nevertheless, most of ASEAN countries still committed to take part in the implementation of the Paris Agreement on 22 April 2016, including the three member countries which be the focus of this article, namely: Indonesia, Vietnam, and Philippines.

But what exactly they agreed to? The main goal of Paris agreement is reducing risks and impacts of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pushing the limit to maximum of 1,5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement also aims to increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and to make finance flows consistent with the goals of low greenhouse gas (GHG) emission.

It seems like ambitious goals to reach, especially to developing countries in this case most of ASEAN members. How are these goals enforced? This question is typical when we talked about international agreement. Most of international agreements are hardly binding to its members and countries are merely contributing to the cause. How is Paris Agreement different from the other international agreements? Paris agreement is binding through the ratification of Paris Agreement into national statute. The agreement is then legally binding to the agreed members. Prior to the ratification, each country needs to submit of National Determined Contributions (NDC), which included as part of the agreement in order to achieve sustainable development. In the ASEAN joint statement to the COP22, all of the members committed to adhere to the Paris Agreement. But why they want to commit? On what extent? What are the efforts so far to achieve these goals? And what are the challenges?

Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines are namely three of the most enthusiastic countries to join the climate change commitments. I would say that one of the possible reasons of the enthusiasm is likely to be funding driven. One of the perks in joining the Paris Agreement is the opportunity of receiving part of 100 billion USD per year by 2020 made available for countries joined the agreement to manage climate change risk and to build resilience.[ii] These three countries are indicated to receive the most development assistance in ASEAN regarding climate change and environmental protection. Indonesia is one of the highest aid recipient-country with the total of 97 Million USD for mitigation-related aid to reduce GHG emissions and climate related in 2011, followed by China and Vietnam. With the ratification of Paris Agreement, it will boost the transfer of climate change-related aid in these countries. This also pointed out from the Paris Agreement, Article 9: “Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention.”

To observe the efforts of ASEAN countries to fulfill the agreement, it is necessary to look at policies of each countries and how they implement these policies. Indonesia ratified the Paris Agreement on 31st October 2016. Along with the ratification, Indonesia also submitted NDC to UNFCCC with the commitment of reducing 26% of GHG against business-as-usual by 2020 and up to 41% with international efforts. Government of Indonesia should tackle main contributor of GHG emissions in Indonesia, which are peat and forest fires and fossil fuel energy. Plenty regulations has been issued to solve these problems. 


Coal is still one of the main sources of energy in ASEAN

Indonesia’s Commitment

To prevent forest fires, the Government of Indonesia instituting a moratorium on the clearing of primary forests and prohibiting conversion of peat lands until 2016. This moratorium is followed by the plan to implement sustainable forest management and social forestry. Indonesia also established a mixed energy use policy, with at least 23% coming from renewable energy in 2025 to reduce emission produced by energy sector.[iii]  The two major policies are expected to achieve the goal of emission reduction, but how are these policies implemented so far?

The moratorium on protection of primary forests and peat lands has been extended until 2019. Although this moratorium has been on and off since 2011. The protected area mentioned in the moratorium also was shifted everytime it is extended, which indicates loophole to converse protected area into productive land.[iv]Lack of evaluation and monitoring of the moratorium could weaken the implementation of this policy and increased chance of corruption. The significance of this moratorium will be on the extent of postponing the issuance of land conversion permit. It is the matter of time until the moratorium is expired and a new land converted from primary forests and peat lands. Moreover, lack of coordination with other stakeholders could lead to ineffectiveness of the policy, due to minimum check and balances between the administrators, local NGOs, and local communities.

On the peak of COP22 in Marrakesh, Greenpeace Indonesia questioned government’s commitment towards reducing GHG through more sustainable energy. With the plan of establishing of new 20,000 megawatts coal-fired power plants, showed the contradictory of the agreement. Instead of phasing out the existing fossil fuel fired plants and increasing the renewable energy resources, Indonesia lowering the chance of achieving the 23% renewable energy goals. In fact, 50% of the domestic demands of coal will increase along with government ambitions of 35 gigawatts electrification programme.[v] Overlaps and contradictions between programmes in Indonesia are one of the major weaknesses of Indonesia’s government due to lack of coordination between stakeholders.

In ASEAN, particularly in Indonesia, it is common to see how policy follows the movement of industry. For example, renewable energy projects in Indonesia is still lagging behind due to massive lobbying for palm oil and coal extraction companies. Comparing to Germany, where industry follows government determined policy. Energiewende programme implemented in Germany resulted in plenty of non-renewable energy industries went out of business. However, there are German companies which able to survive through the transition by adjusting to produce more renewable energy- powered products In support of the German energy transition policy

Energiewende is a movement launched by the German government to make a shift from fossil and nuclear fuel to renewable energy. The term of energiewende means energy transition or transformation, a movement rooted from 1970s anti-nuclear movement. Energiewende, was accelerated after the nuclear accident in Fukushima on 2011, lead to Chancellor Merkel decision to shut down all 17 German nuclear reactors by 2022.[i] This policy was formalized in 2011 by the German Parliament aim to reduce the GHG emission and switch to Renewable energy and make a commitment of reducing GHG emission to 40% on 2020 from 1990 level. Energiewende driven by tackling climate change, reducing energy imports, stimulating energy technology, reducing and eliminating risk of nuclear power, energy security and strengthening local economy and providing social justice.[ii]

Philippines’ Commitment

The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. There is several major problems caused by climate change such as more El Nino will occur and extreme weather like droughts, heavy rain and flood will cause difficulties to predict.Sea surface temperature will rise and trigger more storms and destroying coral and fish ecosystem, rising sea levels and more intense tropical cyclone. Theseconditions is already takenits toll by showing more destructive and unpredicted patterns that will hit the nation.

This year President Duterte signed the Paris aggrement on climate change that will address the restriction of green house gas emissions to slow the pace of global temperature rise to well below two degrees celcius. This decision is followed by the Senate ratification to the agreement on 22 March 2017 and will come into force on 4th of November 2017. This move considered as a victory for the Philippines as earlier the President  stated his disagreement to the accord. He argued that the Paris agreement will only be beneficial for rich countries to bully the small ones and cited as ‘unfair’.[iii] He emphasized on lack of sanctions and howcountries like USA easily get away if they broke and not committed to the agreement, unlikesmall countries like Philippines will be pressured to follow the treaty.

Philippines submitted the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) to the UNFCCC on October 2015 as a part of cooperation with the global community to resolve the climate change issues. In Philippines’ INDC stated that as part of mitigation of climate issues they intend to reduce the carbon emissions by 70% by 2030 based on Bussines as usual (BAU) scenario year 2000-2030 and the reductions will come from energy, transport, waste, forestry and industry sectors.[iv]

Duterte administration from the beginning launch a tough policy by waging war on large scale mining that causing environmental damage. Prior to the paris agreement, President Duterte appointed Regina L. Lopez as head of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). She continues Duterte effort to save environment and natural resources as she laid out several policies such as suspension and termination of large scale mining that unable to meet environment standard, Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) review, Moratorium of fish cage protection, and biodiversity programme.

Philippines still have lot more homework to do in term of achieving their commitment in INDC submitted to UNFCCC, such as reduce the growing part of coal-based industry, to develop more renewable energy to replace fossil fuel generator, environment protection effort and early warning system to prevent loss of lives in event of natural disaster which quite often happen in Philippines. As it stated on their INDC, Philippines recognize the vulnerability of climate change to the nation and strives to ensure that climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction are mainstreamed and integrated into country’s plan and programs at all level.

Vietnam’s Commitment

Among all of three countries, Vietnam has the least ambitious commitments by only reducing 8% of GHG emissions by 2030 based on BAU and 25% with international support.[v] Although, this commitment is most likely to be achieved than other ASEAN countries. As the fourth most internationally funded climate change projects in the world, Vietnam is able to finance climate change resilient programmes and valued up to 137 t CO2 reduced GHG emission. This amount could eliminate more than half of GHG emission of Vietnam in the year of 2010.

Vietnam’s low commitment to higher GHG emission reduction is influenced by the country’s emerging economy. An ambitious environmental restriction commitment could harm the growth of economy. Limiting land conversion into productive land, would prevent Foreign Direct Investments, which have spurred the country since 2009, to come to the country. This also one of the example on how ASEAN countries policies adjusts to the will of industries. 

On the other hand, a large sum of Vietnam’s part of the Mekong River and Mekong Basin could advantage the country in contributing to the Paris agreement. Plenty Official Development Assistance (ODA) transfers coming to Mekong River Commissions (MRC) benefits the country’s reforestation and biodiversity programmes.

ASEAN’s Commitment

Last year, head of states of ASEAN gathered in Vientiane, Lao PDR to discuss ASEAN’s commitment in Paris agreement. In the joint statement issued by the secretary of ASEAN, it stated that ASEAN will undertake actions to address climate change, those actions are: (1) implementing ASEAN Action Plan on Joint Response to Climate Change (AAP-JRCC) and ASEAN forging Ahead Together 2025; (2) developing ASEAN Post 2015 strategic plan on Environment (ASPEN) and ASEAN-UN Action Plan on Environment and Climate Change 2016-2020.[vi]

AAP-JRCC, which was issued in 2010, based on the Roadmap for an ASEAN Community and ASEAN Climate Change Initiative.[vii] The programme of Action consists of activities which address the efforts to tackle climate change such as adaptation, mitigation, finance and investment, technology transfer, capacity building and regional cooperation. Each action lead by one implementing country and funded by regional and international sources. In Addition, Kuala Lumpur Declaration of ASEAN 2025 also strengthen ASEAN’s commitment in climate change. As a part of ASEAN socio-cultural community vision in 2025, a resilience community in responding and adapting climate change is one of the goals to be achieved.[viii] On the other hand, ASPEN and ASEAN-UN Action Plan on Environment and Climate Change is still on development.

These commitments shown by ASEAN reflects greatly on the effort to fulfill Paris Agreement. Detailed actions mentioned in AAP-JRCC, ASEAN 2025, as well in each INDCs will be taken by ASEAN nations to limit the rise in global average temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius by curbing carbon emissions, As a region vulnerable to climate change, ASEAN represents the urgency of fostering movement and action to prevent climate change and its impact to nations around the world, especially countries in which suffer greatly from the climate change effects such as droughts, rising sea level and extreme weather. With the goals of COP23 to expand global climate change initiatives, ASEAN commitments and action plans will probably be taken account for regional initiative cooperation to tackle climate change as a common issue.

At the moment, ASEAN countries are taking the action incorporating carbon pricing approaches, including carbon markets, carbon taxes and domestic carbon funds, in each national climate policies as part of mitigation effort in AAP-JRCC.[ix] Carbon trading is considered as a key solution to achieve emissions reduction targets and to incentivize low carbon growth. Besides that, transparency is also part of mitigation action of ASEAN by developing regional Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) systems. These efforts will then enhance regional carbon trade markets and also motivate countries to lower green gas emissions. Indonesia took part in this effort by creating a National Registry System and MRV systems to ensure the implementation of Indonesia’s NDC.[x]

ASEAN in COP23 – What to expect?

COP23 will mainly focus on drafting “Paris Rulebook” that will consists of modality, procedures, and guidelines. Indonesian delegations for COP23 will push forward important issues such as transparency framework and further guidance for NDC, especially on mitigation, adaptation, communication, and the role of developed countries to support the funding, technology transfer and capacity building. The same missions will also presumably be carried by other ASEAN members.

The theme of COP23 will potentially be beneficial to Indonesia and Philippines while they give special spotlight to island countries in Pacific. Other than extreme weather conditions and food security, further issues to take account such as Blue Carbon for coastal and marine ecosystems should also be discussed as part of climate change mitigation. This can give opportunities to Indonesia, Philippines, and other countries to ‘sell’ their environmental-friendly policies and their position as climate change vulnerable countries in order to attract more funding and investment in the conference. At the same time, COP23 will give ASEAN opportunities to unlock other joint agreement on climate change with other developed countries such as China and the EU.

Challenges will be faced by ASEAN countries in the implementation phase of the Paris Agreement. After the finalization of Paris Rulebook in 2018, the committed countries have to implement their NDCs. ASEAN countries will faces difficulties on how will they be able to persuade the industry to support the commitment of the respective countries regarding climate change resilience actions. This problem arise due to the contradictions of developing countries with their ongoing industrialization and movement to reduce GHG emission around the world. Each of ASEAN countries should be able to comprise a mutual cooperation and mutual benefit policy to develop green economy that based on low emission industry.


[i] Germany could be a Model for how we’ll get power in the future.

[ii] Morris Craig, Pehnt Martin. The German Energiewende Book.

[iii] climate-change- real-paris- agreement-unfair

[vi] ASEAN Joint Statement on Climate Change to the COP-22 to the UNFCCC