The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Studies (NTS) hosted the NTS-Asia Consortium Annual Conference “Climate Change and Sustainable Development Goals in the Asia Pacific” in Singapore on 30-31 March 2017.

The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Studies (NTS) hosted the NTS-Asia Consortium Annual Conference “Climate Change and Sustainable Development Goals in the Asia Pacific” in Singapore on 30-31 March 2017. The Conference brought together members of the Consortium from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, and invited guests from Nepal, Taiwan, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Brunei Darussalam, and Timor Leste. The RSIS Centre of NTS Studies serves as the Secretariat of the Consortium.

Dr Noeleen Heyzer, Former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (2007-2015) and Distinguished Visiting Fellow at RSIS, delivered the Keynote Address at the Opening Session of the Conference.  Over a hundred people, including some students from Cedar Girls’ Secondary School, attended the opening session. In her speech, Dr Heyzer remarked that climate change is a real concern, and while plans and frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are already in place, implementations remain a challenge. She highlighted five ways or ‘transmission mechanisms’ by which climate change can affect human lives: 1) agri-culture production and food security, 2) water stress and water insecurity, 3) rising sea levels and exposure to climate disasters, 4) ecosystems and biodiversity, and 5) human health. Dr Heyzer called for shared responsibilities and collective leadership, and proposed a Public-Private-People Partnership model as a way to tackling climate change and its potential debilitating impacts on human civilisation. She especially emphasised on the ‘people’ element, and suggested that efforts can begin locally and within households. Dr Heyzer also pointed out that technology can play a significant role in addressing some climate-related challenges. In conclusion, Dr. Heyzer reminded the audience that while efforts to counter climate change seem rather slow, there is so much goodness, inspiration and idealism in the world that one can tap into in order to continue to carry out the good work towards sustainable development.

Four panel sessions then followed, with the NTS-Asia Consortium members and some selected guests participating as speakers, moderators and discussants. Panel 1 discussed about Climate Change and SDGs on Food, Energy and Water. The effects of climate change on water shortage were increasingly evident, and enhancing climate projection capability is important to enable better anticipatory responses. The unabated use of fossil fuel since the 18th century Industrial Revolution is among the primary drivers of climate change. As human civilisation has signifcantly impacted the nature, climate change issues need to be analysed from both nature and human lenses. Regardless of the numerous climate challenges, many countries have come together to build a climate change regime that is participatory and inclusive. This multi-stakeholder involvement model can be replicated in the efforts to achieving SDGs.

Panel 2 talked about Climate Change and SDGs on Education, Sustainable Cities and Life below Water (Fisheries)/Life on Land (Forestry). The Philippines’ experience in addressing climate change shows that there is a need for capacity building, a more robust database and a stronger institution to support and implement existing mechanisms, a clear finance roadmap, and increased private sector participation. Singapore’s approach to building sustainable city-state can provide good examples to addressing challenges in urban sustainability. A study on soil degradation in a region in Timor Leste shows that soil in upstream, midstream, and downstream areas is impacted differently. Dam building activities in the Mekong River may saturate its capacity to support the lives of millions of people, and may therefore result in mass migration in their bids to find other livelihoods elsewhere.

Panel 3 focused on Climate Change and SDGs on Gender, Poverty and Health. The Indonesia’s experience showed that while national development planning has incorporated climate change agenda, bigger challenges are found in integrating relevant strategies in local governments’ development plan and budget and in empowering communicates and households, strengthening their livelihoods and reducing vulnerability in sustainable ways. The Myanmar’s experience in providing health services highlighted accessibility challenges especially for the more vulnerable segments of the society.   While climate-driven migration is often seen as failures in implementing adaptation strategies, it could also be regarded as an adaptation tool to combat climate change itself. Considering that climate change has all-encompassing impacts on the SDGs, sustainable development diplomacy can potentially provide a platform to address climate challenges.

Panel 4 deliberated on Climate Change and SDGs on Partnership, Peace and Security. Three ways by which climate change can affect peace and security in the Asia Pacific include increased frequency and severity of disaster events, a global power shift, and an end of multilateralism. Some empirical evidence already shows a linkage between climate change and increased probability of armed conflict; as such, incorporating climate-induced migration and conflict management strategies in climate change policies may become necessary. Additionally, considering peace, development and SDGs are interrelated, addressing marginalisation and inequality as catalysts of potential climate-driven conflicts is critical.

The NTS-Asia Consortium Conference concluded with a session on the NTS-Asia Consortium matters. The new NTS-Asia website was presented, and the Consortium members exchanged ideas on how to move the Consortium forward.

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