Our environment is what supports and nurtures every single one of us as we pursue our quest on planet earth. The COVID-19 pandemic has left no one untouched; be it in the experience of the sudden loss of a loved one, travel restrictions or disruptions in business and educational endeavours. The sense of fear, anxiety and uncertainty that we all have to contend with on a daily basis is yet to show the signs of abatement which we need to return to a sense of normalcy.
Even with the pandemic in full swing, climate change concerns ranked among the top three concerns of the region last year with 53.7% of Southeast Asians viewing climate change as a serious and immediate threat to the well-being of their country. The current sentiment in the region is that the population of ASEAN would like governments to prioritise responses to COVID-19 and climate change equally–with climate change still very much viewed as a current crisis.
The nations of South and Southeast Asia are home to more than 30 percent of the world’s population, about half of whom depend on agriculture—mainly rice, but also other crops such as wheat—for their livelihoods. But according to the World Bank, global warming could reduce agricultural productivity in the region by 10 to 50 percent over the next 30 years.
But who is responsible for climate change? According to the 2020 Southeast Asia Climate Outlook Survey published by Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, the answer is us humans. A majority of the respondents (82.3%) felt that human activity is mainly responsible for climate change. While there are slight variations in opinions between countries, there appears to be a common trend within the region. The study also found that ASEAN youths are more likely than any other age group to be actively engaged in climate advocacy.
Floods, loss of biodiversity and the sea level rise are cited as the top three climate change concerns in the ASEAN region. While the primary concern varies amongst nations depending on the particular environmental concerns of the country, there is an overall trend regarding the climate change concerns that the region faces as a whole.
Benedict Anderson once described the nation as an imagined community and despite the presently prevailing border closures throughout the world, the world remains one big interconnected ecosystem. Nature is ultimately always a cohesive untameable force no matter how we draw up our world maps and dispute over the territories which we call our our own.
The Mekong River that originates in the Tibetan highlands runs through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam before flowing into the South China Sea. The Mekong is home to the world’s largest inland fishery, raking in an estimated 25 percent of the global freshwater catch. Sixty million people create their livelihoods through the fish and crop that grow along the Mekong River and its tributaries. Steadily rising sea levels have already led to an increase in the salinity of the water in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta which has forced some people to abandon rice production and shift to shrimp farming.
Southeast Asia is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change with its extensive, heavily populated coastlines and large agricultural output. Over the past few decades, the region has seen higher temperatures and a sharp rise in the frequency of extreme weather events including droughts, floods, and tropical cyclones.
Climate change together with biodiversity should not be treated in isolation from the general economic, social, and cultural systems and must instead be dealt with in the context of sustainable development. Growth coupled with economic stability and shared equity is what will allow for the continued functioning of ecosystems. It is this very ecosystem that supports the individual quests of all the varied beings that inhabit planet earth.
The respondents of the 2020 Southeast Asia Climate Outlook Survey allocated the responsibility for tackling climate change to national governments (85.3%) and individuals (82.1%). The only exception was Myanmar which directed more responsibility for climate change towards businesses and industries.
Nevertheless, there is a consensus around the idea that the private sector should be involved in climate change with 93.6% of respondents believing that the private sector can play an important role by committing to green supply chain practises, promoting sustainable practises as well as providing green investment and financing. Following on from that point, respondents did not feel that the private sector should be responsible for actually addressing the issue of climate change itself. At this juncture, it is important to note that while individuals do feel responsible for tackling climate change in general; the responsibility for the costs to carry out climate change measures were allocated to businesses and industries (84.2%) as well as governments (80.3%).
I found the statistics very telling. While we all know, are aware and feel responsible for the influence of human activity on the environment, we’re more than happy to let someone else foot the bill.
Ancient peoples all over the world respected and honoured the balance that existed between man and nature. They did not speak of the environment as an abstract concept, but rather as a part of who we are. They revered her as Mother Nature–a living, breathing embodiment of life. Our environment is what supports and nurtures every single one of us as each we pursue our quest on planet earth.
That we care about the environment, but that we don’t care enough to foot the bill says more about us as a species than it does about the earth that we must all share regardless of our national boundaries.