While the infamous series Game of Thrones might say that “winter is coming”, unfortunately, the truth is the other way around. Summer is coming to the Northern hemisphere of the world and it is coming at a faster rate than we hope it would. The threat of climate change and global warming is real and it is approaching us with all the opportunities and challenges that it possesses.

The question is, why should we care about what is happening in a region so far away from home? Far South from the Arctic is Southeast Asia, home to 625 million people and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

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For most of its Member States, discussions about the Arctic region seems minimal. Yet, it is important to note that the changes happening in the Arctic will not only affect their region but also ASEAN and the rest of the world.

The ice melting in the Arctic will open up some new possibilities, including a new transport route with the Northern Sea Route and exploration of new oil and gas resources. However, this will increase sea levels and affect the monsoon season, which in turn is likely to negatively impact food security in the Asia Pacific region.

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For an island country that aspires to become the global maritime fulcrum, Indonesia should take into consideration that those changes will affect itself eventually.

The Northern Sea Route, for example, will shorten the time needed to travel and/or transport goods from Europe to China, Japan or Korea compared to the usual time needed when travelling through the Suez Canal. This would mean that Indonesia will no longer benefit from the transits of ships that pass through the Strait of Malacca.

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Climate change has already begun taking shape in Indonesia. The change in the monsoon has resulted in long droughts, causing lots of crops to fail and threatening the nation’s food security.

Farmers are also losing out on income due to the failing crops, thus affecting the Indonesian agriculture economy. Furthermore, the rising sea levels will rule many islands to be inhabitable, creating an influx of domestic refugees.

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However, Indonesia remains reluctant in taking steps to face up to these challenges. If we reflect upon actions taken by other ASEAN Member States, Singapore and Vietnam can be the ASEAN role models in engaging with climate change in the Arctic Region.

Singapore has joined the Arctic Council as a permanent observer and has been doing research on the changes happening there. Vietnam has also expressed its interest in becoming one of the observers.

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Engaging in the Arctic region through membership in the Arctic Council might seem odd and of a lesser priority for Indonesia and other ASEAN Member States individually. Since most of them including Indonesia are developing countries, the membership would be costly and require certain commitments from each Member State. But there are also other ways to become an observer, such as how the EU is a permanent observer in the Council.

Therefore, ASEAN in its goals to fight climate change should consider engaging with the Arctic Council as a permanent observer. If ASEAN can squeeze this into one of its many agendas, involvement in the Arctic Council will surely become an important asset for ASEAN to tackle climate change directly. Borrowing Dr Narongchai’s words during the ASEAN 50 Conference in Jakarta, “ASEAN will only go as far as Indonesia allows it to go”.

As such, Indonesia should take the lead in bringing ASEAN into the Arctic Council in order to protect its national and regional interests, and become a true global maritime fulcrum.

 


Pricilia Putri Nirmala Sari graduated from Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan, where she studied International Relations and Peace Studies. She also spent a semester abroad in Denmark and is currently working as a project research assistant for Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta.

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ASEAN Economic Forum.