The lack of an ASEAN-wide perspective on COP27 is concerning, given the urgency of climate action and the need for regional cooperation to address the complex challenges of the current climate crisis. While meetings on trade and economic agreements have been scheduled, another critical issue, even more pressing – climate action – has been overlooked.

Nine days before the conclusion of COP27 on 20th November 2022, ASEAN Member States released a “joint statement on climate change to the 27 th  session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”  during a summit held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It started by recalling its previous statements on climate change and then listed what they have done to meet their commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement (PA), adopted almost seven years earlier in December 2015. Among other things, the statement expressed a “grave concern about the continuing rise in global GHG emissions”, stressed “the urgency of climate ambition and action”, and recognized “that climate change has potential negative impact to basic needs for human life … that vulnerable groups, including women, children, older people, people with disabilities, and low-income people are disproportionately affected ….”. Then the statement welcomed the outcomes of COP26 and issued a series of calls to action for parties of the UNFCCC and PA, as well as a list of demands for developed country parties.

Given the nature of ASEAN’s consensus-based decision making – slow at the best of times and tending towards the lowest common denominator – its statement on climate change, while broadly relevant, does not seem to be intended to strongly influence ongoing discussions, deliberations, or negotiations. The group’s ‘consensus dilemma’ leads inevitably towards a politically acceptable collective stance on the issue which Nguitragool and Ruland described in their book  on ASEAN as more about “declaratory politics and symbolism”. Note the recognition that climate change has potential negative impacts for human life, as if this is still open for debate.

It is time for ASEAN to become more pro-active, to drive agenda-setting in the region, and rally Member States towards region-specific priorities particularly for adaptation. In other words, act like a “quasi-bloc ”.

This article is co-published by SEI Asia and Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Southeast Asia Office. To read the full article visit Heinrich Böll Stiftung.