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COP 27: The good, the bad and the ugly for forests and people in Southeast Asia and the Pacific

08, December 2022
Regan Pairojmahakij and David Ganz
Southeast Asian and Pacific states are demonstrating what climate initiative can look like within and outside of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Practitioner's Insights
Flickr/UNClimatechange CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

COP27 could be called largely uninspiring; a plateau in progress marked by periodic bright points. It also represented an effective transition to a new dynamic as the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) moved beyond negotiations to a broader coalition of those willing to implement agreements from previous UN climate talks. 

For local communities and forests in Southeast Asia, the mood may be more upbeat. From cases of leadership on Article 6 and ratcheted-up Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to continued attention on forests and the brokering of large-scale deals, some southeast Asian and Pacific countries have been noteworthy actors on the stage of COP27. 

Positioning of southeast Asian and Pacific countries in the negotiations 

One notable exception was the relative silence of southeast Asian countries on the high-ticket agenda item of loss and damage, a rallying point for their African and Pacific counterparts. Only three out of nine ASEAN Member States, Cambodia, the Philippines and Timor Leste, called for loss and damage in the speeches delivered at the high-level plenary sessions. Viet Nam did not present or speak at the high-level segments of the summit. Myanmar was absent from COP27. 

Despite the muted role of the region in the lead up to the loss and damage agreement, some countries in Southeast Asia demonstrated moments of progress and leadership, occasionally making headlines. For instance, Indonesia was featured in the cover story of the Economist one week after the COP. The interest in Indonesia is due in part to the potential natural resource goldmine it sits upon, with nickel deposits essential for batteries in the booming electric vehicle industry. Indonesia and a group of wealthy countries and private sector actors agreed to a US$20 billion package for Indonesia to transition away from coal and towards renewable energy. The deal was struck in parallel to the COP at the G20 summit of the world's 20 largest economies held in Bali, Indonesia. It is potentially the largest climate deal in history. 

Another example of climate leadership from the region is the submission of strengthened NDCs ahead of COP27. 

Adding to the momentum, the Indonesian Environmental Fund was launched at COP27. A “Donor and Investor Gathering” summit at the G20 in Bali followed immediately after the launch to mobilize more blended climate finance and develop plans to disburse these effectively. The Fund collaborates with the United Nations Development Programme to invest in an innovative performance-based payment modality. The Fund is intended to build on and strengthen the country’s existing REDD+ priorities.    

Another example of climate leadership from the region is the submission of strengthened NDCs ahead of COP27. The Glasgow Climate Pact called for countries to issue stronger targets within the year. By COP27, very few countries had done so, and of those that had, fewer still demonstrated increased ambition. According to Climate Action Tracker, only 29 of the 196 countries signatories to the Paris Agreement submitted revised NDCs. Of these, only five are considered to have demonstrated a ratcheting up of ambition. Three countries are from the Asia-Pacific region: ASEAN member states Thailand and Singapore and Australia from the Pacific.

A further sign of the agility and initiative within the region is Thailand’s deal with Switzerland reached earlier this year. It is one of the first bilateral agreements under the recently finalized Article 6.2 on the international trading of greenhouse gases.  

Despite the dim progress globally in strengthening NDC commitments, some countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific region are taking seriously their commitments. They are carefully weighing their options to meet these, particularly where the land use sector is involved. Countries concerned that carbon credits associated with voluntary carbon market projects would be subtracted from national carbon inventories are cautious about making carbon trading allowances until confident they can deliver on NDC commitments to reduce emissions. 

At the same time, the volume of carbon credits traded in the voluntary carbon market grew by 89 percent in 2021, with 45 percent of all credits coming from forestry and land use projects. There is a clear interest in benefiting from the international trade in carbon credits. The impetus to develop national carbon markets and then to align these with international standards such as VERRA, as Thailand has done, suggests a long-term intention to move towards global trading of carbon credits. This is in line with studies that show the Asia-Pacific region has the highest concentration of the most profitable carbon projects, with returns on investment at close to US$25 billion per year.  

Developments on forests 

Forests remained high on the agenda at COP27, but they were less visible than at COP26. This year ushered in several new multi-country initiatives for tackling deforestation and enhancing restoration. The UK announced the Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership, a group of 27 countries that represents a third of the world’s forests. The group members will meet twice a year to track commitments emerging from the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030.  

The Partnership includes Singapore and Viet Nam. Indonesia expressed interest to join. The United Kingdom committed £1.5 billion finance for forests, including an envelope of £65 million to enhance the role of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in forest protection.  

Local community members patrol their community forest. Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia, December 2019.
Local community members patrol their community forest. Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia, December 2019. 

Another milestone of this year’s COP is the new pact between Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, together home to half of the world’s remaining tropical forests. The three rainforest giants have signed a statement calling for the negotiation of new payment mechanisms to preserve remaining forests by tackling deforestation, increasing the carbon storage of their forests and strengthening biodiversity conservation.  

Finally, ASEAN reaffirmed the importance of forests to mitigation and adaptation in a joint statement at the COP, noting the need for “promoting sustainable management of forests, including through the implementation of UNFCCC decisions on REDD+”. The Pacific countries sounded a more urgent warning. In the Kioa Climate Emergency Declaration 2022 they urged heavily emitting countries to commit to net zero emissions by 2050 and to submit enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions. The subsequent agreement on loss and damage was seen by the Pacific countries as evidence of the power of people in demanding climate justice. 

A tremendous effort at this COP went into maintaining the ambition and agreements attained at Glasgow highlighting the challenges inherent to the UNFCCC architecture to address the climate crisis effectively and swiftly. There seems to be a growing re-focus on parallel and complementary processes that relate to the multilateral banking institutions, with the private sector and initiatives countries undertake on their own. Southeast Asian and Pacific states are demonstrating what climate initiatives can look like, both within and outside of the UNFCCC.  

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Regan Pairojmahakij is a senior program officer on landscapes in a changing climate and David Ganz is executive director at RECOFTC.  

RECOFTC's work is made possible with the continuous support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).