Southeast Asian governments must seize moment, enact measures for green recovery from COVID-19, new report says


Southeast Asian governments must seize moment, enact measures for green recovery from COVID-19, new report says

Please click here for a Thai translation of this statement

Please click here for a Malay translation of this statement

Please click here for a Bahasa Indonesian translation of this statement

JAKARTA – Despite Southeast Asia being one of the world’s most at-risk regions from the impacts of climate change, governments in the region have failed to capitalize on the opportunity to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic by introducing recovery measures that help promote a transition to a green economy, a new report has found. Many have instead used their COVID-19 recovery packages to enact policies that contribute to global warming and create major barriers to a low-carbon economic transition. 

The new report, entitled “Building Back Better: Southeast Asia’s transition to a green economy after COVID-19”, published today by ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), evaluated pandemic recovery measures taken by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Timor-Leste between February 2020 and April 2021. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic recession that followed, has brought into sharp focus the injustices ingrained in our current economic model, which for too long has pursued profits over people and the environment, exacerbated existing inequalities, and done nothing to protect the most vulnerable,” said Charles Santiago, chair of APHR and a Malaysian Member of Parliament (MP). “The economic recovery from the pandemic has presented the perfect opportunity to change towards a green and sustainable economy that works for everyone.” 

“While our governments have so far fallen drastically short when it comes to implementing much-needed policy changes, as MPs we have a crucial role to play, and must do everything we can to urge the leaders in our region to invest in smart policies for a green transition,” Santiago said. 

APHR found that governments have adopted limited green policy measures as part of their national COVID-19 recovery plans, with examples including subsidies and tax reductions for environmentally friendly products, tax increases for environmentally harmful products, as well as investment in clean transport and energy infrastructure. 

However, these measures were critically undermined by numerous “brown policies” that increase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For example, bailouts with no green strings attached for high GHG-emitting businesses such as aviation, oil and gas, and land development exceeded USD 50 billion in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. 

The issue of how to tackle climate change is particularly timely, ahead of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), which will begin in Glasgow, Scotland, in late October, APHR said. 

“It is mind blowing that while world scientists keep warning us that we are running out of time, and while people and economies of the region are increasingly feeling the impacts of climate change, our governments are continuing to support the highly emitting industries of the past, and have not prioritized policies and budgets that promote green and sustainable development of the region,” said Mercy Barends, an APHR Board Member and Indonesian MP.

Among the focal countries, Singapore had the most recovery measures across sectors that supported a green recovery, whereas Indonesia and the Philippines had the most recovery measures opposing it, APHR found. 

“Initiating a green recovery would have huge benefits for our region. Not only would it help limit global warming, but would also help us to recover quicker from the pandemic, as well as build an economy that is more resilient,” said Pita Limjaroenrat, a Thai MP and APHR member.

“Lawmakers lie at the heart of fulfilling climate change commitments, whether that’s through our role in pushing progressive legislation, overseeing national budgets, or in our mandate to be the voice of our constituents, who will be the worst affected by climate change if no action is taken,” he said. 

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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