A marked shift from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to the upcoming 2012 Rio+20 Summit is the role of emerging Asia in driving both challenges and solutions to the world’s climate crisis. Global climate policy in 1992 was heavily characterized by the North-South dynamics that have defined the international system for decades, with international mechanisms often "locked into a ‘rich country’ vs. ‘poor country’ dichotomy” as noted by UNDPs 2012 Human Development Report for the Asia-Pacific region. But recent years of climate negotiations make clear that we may well be moving into a system of global governance beyond this dichotomy, as part of a broader shift to a more multi-polar world order. While much attention has been placed on the role of Asia in rising global emissions, attention is also increasingly placed on the prospects for Asia to also lead solutions and innovation.
As it re-emerges at the center of the world economy, Asia is also rapidly expanding its role as a global partner for development and with this comes an opportunity to shape global solutions. While global climate policy during the past 20 years was largely defined by north-south flows of technical assistance and carbon finance, the next 20 years will see a greater role for south-south cooperation on climate mitigation and adaptation. Many countries in Asia have begun to show leadership at home as they seek to overcome resource scarcity and create the foundations for a resource conserving, green economy. Examples include the role of the state in China in catalyzing local markets for renewable energy and energy efficiency, the role of democratic institutions in India in crafting rights-based approaches, the efforts of the Republic of Korea towards green economy policies, emerging models of REDD+ initiatives in Indonesia, and the re-thinking of development through Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness policy, to name but a few.
An opportunity is arising to engage in south-south cooperation to mainstream low-emission, climate resilient approaches into Asia’s outward flows of trade, investment and official development assistance. As noted by the Asia-Pacific HDR, “concerted action to address climate change requires cooperation and coordination” while “effective partnerships can significantly reduce the global cost of addressing climate change.” Beyond south-south potentials within Asia, for example under the SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change or the ASEAN-China Environmental Cooperation process, new south-south partnerships between Asia and partner countries around the world can help catalyzing access to sustainable energy and water for the poor in LDCs, and lay foundations for new global green growth partnerships. In 2010 the world saw a record $386 billion market capitalization in clean technology sectors, with Asia leading the way with 60% of the total. A 2011 World Economic Forum report on the New Sustainability Champions also highlighted the innovative role of the private sector including green innovators like Jain Irrigation, Shree Cement and Suzlon in India; and Broad Group, Suntech and Zhangzidao Fishery Group in China, among others.
As we look to the future, what potentials exist for expanding south-south cooperation to build on these successes through global partnerships, so that other regions can partner with Asia on clean tech development, market-based approaches, and public-private partnerships? As the social and ecological footprint of Asia’s outward FDI and ODA expands around the world, what scope exists to integrate low-emission, climate-resilient approaches and address Asia’s growing footprint in globally critical ecosystems in Africa and the Americas? What role could exist for multilateral entities like the UN to facilitate such partnerships towards the Rio+20 green economy agenda?
The evolving process of China-Africa cooperation is one place such issues could be further explored. Coming on the heels of the upcoming Rio+20 Summit in June, the next Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in July 2012 could emerge as an important platform to explore low-emission, climate-resilient approaches. It follows the last FOCAC summit in 2009 in Egypt where countries issued the Sharm El Sheikh Action Plan (2010-2012), which includes a focus on south-south cooperation for sustainable development. The China-Africa Think Tank has estimated that more than 100 clean energy projects have been commenced in recent years under the action plan targets. As other countries in Asia, from India and the Republic of Korea to Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, also expand their global partnership strategies in Africa, the Arab region and the Americas, such opportunities can also be envisaged.
Both public and private sectors in Asia are beginning to explore the benefits of joining forces across borders to integrate green economy options into international cooperation strategies. South-south cooperation could see a growing component of low-emission, climate resilient approaches in Asia’s outward trade, investment and official development assistance in coming years. With its growing position in the world, south-south cooperation could be an important trend not only for Asia and its emerging partners, but for a world seeking a more multi-polar form of climate governance.