An article by José Ramos-Horta and Mohamed Nasheed, The Jakarta Post.

For decades, Asian leaders largely ignored climate change. It’s a Western problem, we said. They caused the problem by dumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere; let them clean it up. Instead, we Asian leaders focused on reducing poverty by growing our economies.

We were not responsible for the pollution, we argued; so we should not have to pay for it. Yes, Asia’s industrialization was quietly building up toxic stores of carbon, but we were only following the rich world’s prescription for success. Carbon equals growth, it said; and, like those who took up smoking on the doctor’s orders, we were not to blame.

There was a time when the assumptions underpinning this line of thinking were true. Not anymore.

Climate change has become malignant. It threatens to blunt Asia’s growth and upend our development. Climate scientists are increasingly certain that catastrophic weather events — such as the 2011 floods in Thailand, one of history’s costliest disasters, or last year’s Typhoon Haiyan, which killed and displaced thousands of people in the Philippines — will become more frequent and intense.

From small island states to delta settlements, Asia is the climate frontline. Seven of the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change are in Asia and the Pacific. Millions of Asians are at risk. It falls to Asian governments, whose primary responsibility is to protect their citizens, to respond.

For decades, we left it to the West to solve the problem. And for decades they failed to do so. If Asian countries don’t help push things forward, the United Nations climate summit in Paris next year — where world governments are due to sign a crucial agreement to curb emissions — could fail.

Three things need to happen.

Firstly, Asian Heads of Government should reposition their countries ahead of the Paris talks. We should instruct our negotiators to leave behind entrenched positions and work positively towards a global deal. It is difficult to admit, but sometimes we Asians have been less than helpful in the UN climate negotiations: Using arguments about “equality” as a pretext to pollute; playing on post-colonial guilt to stymie progress; or claiming poverty when our per capita incomes sometimes rival Europe’s.

One of the few positive outcomes from the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 was the creation of a new group, the Cartegena Dialogue for Progressive Action: like-minded countries that refused to allow their differences in size, wealth or geography stand in the way of their mutual desire to curb climate change. We need to more of this kind of co-operative action if we are to seal a deal in Paris.

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