Bushfires are one of the ways in which ASEAN countries and Australia are both experiencing the impacts of climate change. To protect and prevent further damage to forest ecosystems, bushfire management, including prevention, control, extinguishment, and planning of cross-regional bushfire handling, is required. ASEAN-Australia political action can play a strategic role to encourage each region to open a directed partnership and participate in creating policies to save the environment, especially forests. Organizational power can encourage synergy in the management of bushfires that occur every year.
Bushfires due to extreme weather are an impact of climate change. Climate change is increasing the frequency of extreme El Nino events of a 1.5 °C and 2 °C warmings. Forest ecosystems normally have high levels of humidity and moisture but a combination of the dry conditions by El Nino causes severe bushfires. Based on the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) data for the last five years, bushfires in Indonesia and Malaysia damaged hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest. In other ASEAN countries, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) detected 2,451 hot spots in 2018, consisting of 1,868 in Cambodia, 185 in Laos, 77 in Myanmar, 217 in Thailand, and 114 in Vietnam. Most of the hot spots are in forest areas and have a risk of causing bushfires. Meanwhile, in the period 2019-2020, bushfires in Australia damaged over 18 million hectares, around 21 per cent of the forest area.
ASEAN-Australia political action indirectly encourages joint synergy between regions to face global challenges. Enhancing ASEAN-Australia political action on climate change is expected to be able to create alternative solutions in sustainable multilateral partnerships. Therefore, enhancing ASEAN-Australia political action on climate change is very important. ASEAN-Australia political action on climate change can hopefully provide a platform to build strategic partnerships in handling bushfires and reduce emissions from forest degradation. Strategic partnerships between ASEAN countries and Australia on climate change can strengthen the resilience of each region to face the impacts of climate change, especially in handling bushfires.
The ‘Plan of Action’: A Legal Framework for ASEAN-Australia Climate Action
The Plan of Action (PoA) acts as a legal framework for ASEAN-Australia climate action. As a legal framework, the PoA guides the implementation of the goals and objectives of the ASEAN-Australia Strategic Partnership. One follow-up of enhancing ASEAN-Australia political action on climate change for handling bushfires is through the extension of the PoA period. Implementation of the PoA for the Asean-Australia Strategic Partnership is intended as a response to accelerate bushfires handling and overcome the impact of climate change which is getting worse in each region. The PoA is one of the manifestations of a partnership between ASEAN and Australia since 1974. This year, it was extended until 2024 and added climate change adaptation and mitigation as one of the partnership points.
Points on climate change adaptation and mitigation are clear on the 2020-2024 PoA. It aims to pursue ASEAN-Australia partnerships to advance climate change adaptation and mitigation including through supporting communities and ecosystems to be adaptive and resilient and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to transition into low carbon development. Although the previous PoA included a forestry point to support Reducing Emissions From Deforestation And Forest Degradation (REDD+), in the 2020-2024 PoA, forestry points were replaced by climate change adaptation and mitigation points which does not include Reducing REDD+.
Enhanced ASEAN-Australia political action through the PoA can realize administrative innovation and development of the bushfire response areas. The plan encourages Australia’s commitment to supporting regional disaster responses, including through support to the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) and the implementation of the ASEAN Community Vision. In 2025, the ASEAN Community Vision will be held to address emerging regional and global challenges over the next five years. The PoA also seeks to promote partnership in support of integration processes.
ASEAN-Australia Strategic Partnerships
The ASEAN-Australia partnerships which have a strategic role in addressing climate change issues must be implemented and developed every year, such as the ASEAN-Australia Development Cooperation Program (AADCP) and the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Partnership. The AADCP is a long term partnership between ASEAN and Australia and has a focus on addressing regional development challenges. The AADCP Program also undertakes regional advocacy and cooperation in areas including public health, human resource development, environment, and natural resources. Meanwhile, the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Partnership is a partnership between countries in the Asia-Pacific region and a joint commitment on the momentum of the Paris Agreement. The Asia-Pacific Rainforest Partnership doesn’t specifically include an aspect of the partnership between ASEAN and Australia. But ASEAN and Australia take part to promote global action, formulate national policies that reduce rainforest loss, and support sustainable economic development.
Furthermore, non-governmental organizations are involved in promoting partnerships between individuals, ASEAN countries, and institutions in Australia. Several non-governmental organizations also take part in promoting climate change issues in ASEAN countries and Australia such as the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), SAARC Agricultural Center (SAC), Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities (CAI Asia), Climate Action Network Australia (CANA), Greenpeace Australia Pacific, The Australian Forests and Climate Alliance (AFCA), etc. ASEAN-Australia political action on climate change should not be limited to partnerships initiated by the government. Programs initiated by non-governmental organizations can also contribute to encourage joint synergy between regions to face the impacts of climate change.