Green Dragons

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The Politics of Climate Change in Asia

The negotiations held under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen in December 2009 fell well short of global expectations. The UNFCCC process is intended to reach an agreement in which near-term national interests are set aside in the interest of future generations of the world as a whole. Concluding a successful UNFCCC process would therefore require the leaderships participating countries to exercise considerable political courage. Indeed, the result of the COP 15 seems to have its roots less in the science of climate change or in disagreements over appropriate methodologies to reduce global GHG emissions and more in a highly complex interplay of domestic politics carried out on a global stage. The inability of countries to resolve the most contentious issues pertaining to global action on climate change raises the question of whether the UNFCCC framework will work as the main negotiating forum for achieving further progress on mitigating global climate change. Whether other frameworks at the regional or global level may be better suited to forge consensus on key issues depends on the domestic politics surrounding climate change issues in key participating countries.

This report examines the climate change debates in seven key countries in the Asia-Pacific region—Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan South Korea, and the United States. In their stances toward mitigating the effects of climate change, the key Asia-Pacific countries define their interests differently, and often in ways defying standard expectations, depending on their varying opportunities at the international level and their diverse domestic political situations. Therefore, to reach a consensus on the solution to the challenge of climate change, the political leaders in these countries need to effectively present the collective benefits of climate change amelioration while convincing their publics to accept the pain that this amelioration will almost certain entail. Thus far, approaches focusing on cap-and-trade programs have been derailed or diluted by domestic legislatures in the United States, Japan, and Australia, but convergence on technological and market-oriented solutions might be harnessed by political leaders determined to respond to public support for mitigation policies.

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Charles Freeman
Senior Adviser (Non-resident), Economic and Trade Affairs

Kiyoaki Aburaki, Malcolm Cook, Zhu Feng, Prem Shankar Jha, Sarah O. Ladislaw, Wonhyuk Lim, Agus P. Sari

Amy Searight