Thursday, April 2, 2009

Putting climate change on Asia's development agenda

Prior to a press conference by Stephen Timms, Financial Secretary to the Treasury (UK), I spoke with Prof. Kenny Tang, a UK-based Malaysian expert on climate change policy in Asia.

Kenny echoed some familiar sentiments about any proposed stimulus spending: namely, the fear that stimulus spending might mitigate climate change, but could instead exacerbate the problem.

"There is a lot of ignorance in Southeast Asia about climate change. For example, they don't know about claiming carbon credits," said Kenny.

Kenny says that the lions' share of carbon credits are being claimed by China.

When I suggested to Kenny that developing world governments ought to build urban mass transportation infrastructure, Kenny noted that countries should also address how they build new infrastructure. He cited the need for ensuring that future projects embrace environmentally-sound building materials, etc.

Climate change talk in Southeast Asia must amount to more than "greenwashing" Kenny told me.

Inside the press conference hall, Financial Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Timms (website) was asked about climate change.

Timms responded, "We need to keep the focus on the longer-term problems the world is encountering such as climate change and poverty. This crisis presents a very big opportunity to bring together recovery and green investment."

Timms added that he would leave it to a minister -- Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change -- to elaborate on the topic. Hearing this, I thought that so long as the finance ministry leaders are asking the environment ministry to elaborate on climate change measures, this is as fair an indication as any that environmental concerns are not anywhere near the top of any summit's agenda.

In terms of the summit outcome, Timms noted firstly, "the biggest expansionary push in history" and secondly, progress on "tax havens."

Concerning the first point, it remains to be seen whether the expansionary spending -- why didn't he use the word stimulus? -- went beyond anything that had not already been agreed well before the conference.

Timms also said that the G20 nations had agreed to "at least double IMF funding." Timms said that Mexico's agreement to accept IMF funds was a signal that there was no longer any "stigma" attached to accepting IMF loans -- with Mexico having agreed to take advantage of an IMF loan despite being "a strong economy."

One reporter asked Timms about whether France and Germany were cooperating with the UK and US initiative to push for greater stimulus spending across the G20.

Timms replied that all countries had a "shared interest in a successful summit outcome." I think it will be a successful outcome; I am very optimistic." But then Timms added more starkly: "We all know in the 1930s what the consequences were, what they could be again."
Photos: by Jotman. First photo shows Asian climate change policy expert Prof. Kenny Tang meeting with the UK Financial Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Timms; second photo shows Timms speaking at the press conference.

Update: It looks like nothing whatsoever will be decided at the summit concerning climate change; summit leaders would leave it up to the IMF to decide to what extent climate change would factor into stimulus spending.

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