Residents stand on the road near their flooded village in the central Thai province of Lopburi on September 28, 2021, as tropical storm Dianmu caused flooding in 30 provinces across the country. (Photo: Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

Southeast Asians Weigh In On Climate Issues


A climate outlook survey conducted by the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute shows that Southeast Asians expect their government to exert more effort in addressing the issue.

Ahead of the COP26 meeting in Glasgow this year, a survey conducted by the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute shows that Southeast Asians are increasingly concerned about climate change and expect their governments to do more to address the issue. The Southeast Asia Climate Outlook Survey 2021 provides a glimpse into citizens’ views from all ten ASEAN countries towards the climate crisis, solutions and responses at the national and regional level. 610 self-identified Southeast Asian respondents expressed their opinions on climate change issues through an online survey from June to August 2021. Results reveal that respondents are overwhelmingly concerned about climate change impacts and are eager to see improvements in both national and regional climate action.

Impacts of Climate Change

Respondents show a strong awareness of how climate change is already impacting their countries. Floods, loss of biodiversity, and sea level rise are the top three perceived climate change impacts in ASEAN. These climate change impacts were also picked as the top three concerns in the 2020 iteration of the survey.

Sources of Climate Change News

Respondents’ understanding of climate impacts and other issues may be influenced by their main sources of climate change-related news, whose coverage of impacts may vary. Nearly half of respondents (44.1 per cent) get news and information about climate change issues from major online news sites. A large proportion (47.1 per cent) of those under 21 years old, however, depend on social media and online influencers/public figures to stay informed. In general, online sources of news are more popular than traditional media across ASEAN for climate-related reporting.

Energy and Decarbonisation

The level of confidence in renewable energy transition in the region is low. Meanwhile, the level of confidence in economic competitiveness resulting from climate policies is relatively high. On a scale of 0 to 10, ASEAN respondents only ranked their confidence at 4.6 on average for ASEAN to achieve its 23 per cent target share of renewable energy in the total primary energy supply by 2025. Indeed, various predictions from researchers at the ASEAN Studies Centre, International Renewable Energy Agency and International Energy Agency estimate that ASEAN may not meet this target even by 2040, suggesting that major policy improvements are needed to achieve this ambition. Conversely, respondents rank their confidence at 6.6 on average for economic competitiveness resulting from better and innovative climate change policies, which may indicate greater optimism for the economic potential of such policy changes.

Government’s Role in Climate Change

Other policy improvements that ASEAN respondents want to see from governments include encouraging businesses to adopt green practices, enacting climate laws, and allocating more public financial support towards low carbon solutions to reduce their country’s carbon emissions.

Private Sector’s Role in Climate Change

A majority (74.1 per cent) of respondents also believe that the private sector has a responsibility to tackle climate change. Overall, respondents want the private sector to adopt green supply chain practices, invest in research and development, and technology, and adopt greater transparency and accountability in corporate sustainability reporting.

Governments’ Stimulus Spending and Green Recovery

When it comes to Covid-19 recovery, the majority of respondents disagree (45.6 per cent) or are unsure (38.7 per cent) that their government’s stimulus spending contributed to a green recovery from the pandemic, which may indicate that governments are perceived as missing out on opportunities for integrating climate change and economic measures.

ASEAN’s Effectiveness in Climate Action

At the regional level, respondents remain uncertain (44.3 per cent) or otherwise divided (23.9 per cent) over whether ASEAN is effective as a regional organisation in tackling climate change. The perceived lack of confidence in ASEAN’s ability to act in concert to address climate change may signal that either the organisation does not have clear climate goals or that it has not communicated clearly its climate plans to the public.

International Climate Cooperation

In the absence of global climate leadership in the past few years, the majority of respondents (30.7 per cent) think that the EU has demonstrated climate leadership to help the world achieve Paris-aligned goals and expect to see the EU playing a more proactive role in the region. Of note, an almost equally high proportion of ASEAN respondents (26.1 per cent) are unable to attribute global climate leadership and role to any country, signifying a pessimistic outlook and a cynical view of climate leadership. Yet, in the same vein, 11.6 per cent of ASEAN respondents held a cynical view of climate leadership when asked about potential countries that could be proactive in helping their country with expertise and technical know-how. In this scenario of proactive countries helping the region, nearly 16.4 per cent felt that the US could potentially step up to the plate, perhaps reflecting a note of optimism now that the Biden Administration has rejoined the Paris Agreement.

For negotiators and policymakers making their way to Glasgow, these may be potentially useful findings in terms of understanding how their domestic constituents view the looming climate crisis.

To access the full report, click here.


Sharon Seah is Senior Fellow and concurrent Coordinator at the ASEAN Studies Centre and Climate Change in Southeast Asia Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. She is also editor of Building a New Legal Order for the Oceans.

Melinda Martinus is the Lead Researcher in Socio-cultural Affairs at the ASEAN Studies Centre, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

Qiu Jiahui is Research Officer at the Climate Change in Southeast Asia Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.