Here at the Asia Clean Energy Forum in the Philippines, President Obama’s speech on climate change has been greeted with enthusiasm.  In particular, his decision to redirect U.S. financing of coal fired power plants to expanding the use of clean energy in developing countries is seen as a signal that the U.S. understands that coal is risky and expensive—at a time when the costs of biomass, geothermal, solar, and wind power are declining rapidly.

The positive reaction to Obama’s initiative is hardly surprising: many Asian countries share the U.S. President’s concern about climate change: recent fires, droughts, and typhoons have devastated large areas, stirred public concern, and spurred governments to act.

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coal, energy policy, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, Southeast Asia, United States

As I tried to complete my work yesterday evening, my house not unusually experienced a series of lengthy power outages. These went on from around five o’clock in the evening until long past midnight. Not only did this mean that all light in the room vanished, that temperatures soared into the high and humid 40s Centigrade, and that I could no longer see the mosquitoes coming silently closer; it also made me think.

This is Delhi, India’s capital city; and one of the most affluent, vibrant and well-resourced cities in the country. Yet even here, power outages are a daily occurrence, water only reaches the taps for certain hours of the day, infrastructure is still being built, and people of all ages sleep on the streets at night. Further afield, things are in some ways better and in many ways, worse. Whereas cities concentrate some problems, with the crowding, sanitation and infrastructural challenges that a booming population brings, many rural areas have no electricity at all and far more scarce or polluted water supplies. Job availability, access to education, healthcare and many other opportunities are often much more limited than in cities.

This is the reality of a developing country. All of these conditions have a marked impact on people’s efficiencies and productivity, making goals harder to achieve and tasks take longer. Yet how often do we remember this fact as we bandy around the term ”developing nation” freely in the international negotiations. Non-Annex 1,” “emerging economy,” “global south”… These have become so technical, but do we stop enough to reflect on what these terms truly mean?

In this regard, I can’t help but think about the challenge that preparing for the climate negotiations must be for each of these countries. To different extents, they are all working to build roads, find and secure essential resources, expand education and healthcare, create jobs and improve the wellbeing of their many poor. Their capacity is oftentimes spread so very thin. This simple fact alone puts developing nations at a disadvantage as they seek to come head to head with their ”big brothers” in Copenhagen. Can they sufficiently prepare?

The light flicks on and the fan kicks into gear as quickly as it vanished. I don’t know how long it will last this time, but I hope a little longer.

China & India, developing countries, development, energy security, India, inequality, negotiations, Southeast Asia

Ama Dablam rises 6,812 meters to the southeast of Mount Everest. Its name, literally, means “the mother’s pendant,” describing a glacier that for thousands of years has hung from the rugged peak like a pearl from an ancient mother’s neck.

Revered as one of the most beautiful and sacred mountains in the Himalayas, Ama Dablam was until recently off limits to climbing expeditions. In 2006, however, the majority of the glacier broke off, crashing to the valley below and killing six climbers who were camping at the mountain’s base.

Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Union of Asian Alpine Associations, believes that aside from being a tragic and isolated incident, the event symbolizes more disturbing changes that are hitting the region. And he is not alone.

Mr. Sherpa comes from a long line of mountain people; his great-grandfather was one of the leading Himalayan guides for the first Mount Everest expedition in 1922. Earlier this month, Sherpa described the changes occurring in his homeland when we met at the Kathmandu-to-Copenhagen conference in Nepal, the first formal meeting of Himalayan nations on climate change.

As I noted in a recent article for Worldwatch’s Eye on Earth news service, Sherpa explained that in 1960, Nepal was home to 3,000 glaciers and no high-altitude lakes, some of which threaten to burst and flood downstream areas. Now, he says, “every glacier is melting and we have between 2,000 and 3,000 lakes.”

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climate effects, glacial melt, Nepal, Southeast Asia, vulnerability, water