Sustainable development has fallen under the climate change agenda but most recently it has emerged as a unifying force for all environmental security issues. It is thus necessary to provide the context from where, how and what sustainable development is envisioned by action leaders. On 21 November 2014, five distinguished action leaders – two city mayors, a climate negotiator, a clean energy entrepreneur and a civil society leader – along with more than 60 representatives from Singapore government ministries, universities, think tanks, embassies, civil society organisations and the private sector in Singapore gathered for a Policy Roundtable jointly organised by the German Embassy in Singapore and the RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies. It was part of the RSIS-NTS’ joint series of events on climate diplomacy with the German Embassy in Singapore on exploring the theme of Securing our Sustainable Future: Bringing Sustainable Development Back In.
There are varying frameworks and narratives for addressing climate change and sustainable development. First, political leadership in terms of national commitment and multilateral cooperation is ever more important. Second, communicating the salience of the issues in relation to climate change, the environment and sustainable development is necessary not only through more deliberate and provocative, if not pioneering action, but also through simpler and socially relevant approaches. Noteworthy approaches that open up more opportunities for pushing the sustainable development agenda can include:
• Go local for sustainable development. Local leaders have the capacity to effectively incentivise both the public and other cities in their networks to contribute to local environmental initiatives and at the same time promote economic development. Local leaders are indispensable actors in pushing a sustainable agenda forward. Local leaders have the democratic capacity to encourage community ownership of sustainable practices by 'plugging’ the public into the policymaking process – not only through consultation but actually soliciting ideas and partnering with communities in shaping environment-friendly practices. It is at the local level where small but sustainable options can provide solutions and pioneer more environmentally sustainable policies. This however does not disregard national and ministerial climate change policies that can also affect how local governments define local climate action.
• Introduce and promote sustainability education. There is still a gap as regards the public’s awareness of environmental challenges. Sustainability education – that goes beyond the cognitive, objective facts towards more concrete efficacious individual action – needs to be integrated in all levels of education and if possible mainstreamed into curriculums, especially in policy and business schools, to address the low levels of socio-ecological consciousness among young people.
• Support clean energy and technology. National and local governments need to have consistent energy and development policies. This will greatly help in accommodating and evening the odds for the private sector. Government regulations and commercially vested interests often result in slow progress in the renewable energy sector. Thus, more policy and fiscal incentives are needed such as the introduction of a feed-in tariff mechanism for geothermal waste in Indonesia, or for methane gas from landfills to be converted to supply electricity in the poor urban areas of Quezon City in the Philippines. As countries’ climate vulnerabilities increase, there is a stronger need for governments to push for more energy-efficient technology, particularly with clear-cut implementation of national renewable energy policies, the harmonisation and linking of national and local policies in terms of acquiring permits for renewable energy projects etc. With more investments in Asia for clean energy, there is then a need to redesign the current emissions trading scheme and simplify the carbon tax mechanism.
National and local governments need to transform environmental action into more local and manageable scales of sustainable economic transformation. Addressing climate challenges needs to start in the transformation of the current unsustainable economic development to a low-emission and resilient economy. It should be recognised that aside from mitigation and adaptation costs, climate expenditures also support energy security, food security and even trade competitiveness. Such expenditures by developing countries have to be balanced along with urgent but competing priorities.
There is a need to remind policymakers that sustainable development is about the future and the legacy that one chooses to leave behind. The fast-tracking of technological innovations for clean technology as being done in Singapore can benefit the region as a whole as it aspires to become an ASEAN Economic Community. The above approaches offer practical opportunities for sustainable development in the region.
For more information on the Policy Roundtable on Sustainable Development, Environmental Security and Climate Change, please see the RSIS event summary here. For additional information about Climate Diplomacy by Cities in Asia-Pacific, please see here.