It is proven that climate change effects are interconnected with the many environmental issues that humans will eventually suffer from. In recent decades, climate change has become one of the major global security problems as it is known to cause human and social insecurities such as poverty, floods, endemics, transboundary haze, pollutants, deforestation, etc. These challenges are often categorised as non-traditional security threats that this region is especially prone to. However, as a small state, Brunei is more vulnerable to these challenges. The law of unintended consequences is real, and if Brunei is slow in tackling climate change and its associated challenges with full conviction and in the near future, it will be severely impacted with environmental vulnerabilities particularly in ecosystem vitalities and environmental health.
With Brunei chairing the ASEAN Summit this year and as part of its agenda, the country has been at the forefront to tackle climate change that is in accordance with the Paris Agreement. The ASEAN Member States (AMS) adopted the Bandar Seri Begawan Joint Declaration on Energy Security and Energy Transition, which reaffirmed the shared commitments and responsibilities of ASEAN member states to pursue alternative and cleaner low-carbon energy footprint in the region. This initiative which includes mitigating environmental issues has to be a collective effort from the AMS; with a people-to-people approach that ranges from individual, community, state actors, nonstate actors, and big companies, among others. In fact, the potential impacts of environmental degradation caused by climate change should not be understated. According to the UN, climate change has been recognised as a ‘threat multiplier’, which necessitates the urgency to integrate it into the existing security policy agenda.
Brunei’s Looming Threats: Geography and Increasing Urbanisation
Brunei’s 7th ranking in the 2020 World Risk Report is indicative of its high risk of exposure to climate change uncertainties. This would be exacerbated by the increasing urbanisation. Unfortunately, it appears that those living in urban areas are often the most affected by natural disasters. In 2019, the total population of urban areas in Brunei was 77.94%. This means that a majority of Bruneians are now dependent on the easy access to amenities such as clean water, electricity, internet services, and roads. However, some of these areas are prone to issues such as flash floods, open burning, and intermittent access to clean water.
Brunei’s geographical location such as its long coastline exposes the country to many environmental issues. Alarmingly, the occurrences of flash floods have recently spiked due to the rise in sea level and a gradual increase in the temperature. Additionally, in August 2021, the unpredictable weather condition saw several low-land areas such as in Belait and Tutong districts affected by flood.
Conversely, global warming has caused a longer spell of dry season that led to forest fires, especially in the middle of the year. In 2020, over 500 hectares of land were destroyed by forest fire due to the extreme heat which contributed to the haze problem and air pollution. In a related issue, Brunei’s peatlands are also at risk due to forest fires, poor management, lack of knowledge, and drainage issues. The irreplaceable peatlands play an important function in the maintenance of global biodiversity. Currently, 10% or about 32.94 million hectares of the world’s peatland is found in this region. If Brunei’s peatlands are not protected, its pristine rainforests will be at further risk of destruction.
Collectively, these warrant Brunei to rethink its overall environmental and human security policy. It is, thus, timely to now include non-governmental organizations to mitigate this existential crisis.
The Answer: Whole of Nation Approach, Environmental NGOs (ENGOs) and Climate Change Mitigation
A whole of nation approach is essential in mitigating climate change. This people-to-people approach engages the society, especially non-governmental organisations (NGOs), to participate in building national policy. Additionally, environmental NGOs (ENGOs) are arguably the backbone of the government in mitigating climate change as they work closely with the government, grassroots level, and other NGOs. They often inspire government activities and support relevant government agencies in mitigating environmental issues. Brunei is currently adopting this holistic approach to mitigate climate change by engaging society and other concerned organisations. This includes the government educating the society to be environmentally aware through cooperation, collaboration, and by empowering them to work and collaborate with relevant government agencies.
There are several notable instances of such an approach being put into practice in Brunei. One of the best examples is when ENGOs voluntarily, actively involved in efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The national review report presented at the 2020 UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development is the best example of people-to-people interaction in the country. In the report, ENGOs were highlighted to be assisting the government achieve SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG 13 (climate action), SDG 14 (conserve and sustainable use of the oceans, seas, and marine resources), and SDG 15: (life on land). The national review report also revealed that the Brunei Climate Change Secretariat (BCCS) and Green Brunei, an inspiring ENGO towards green movement and sustainability, were working together to address SDG 13. Through such endeavours, NGOs can also help the government in educating the society to be more environmentally good citizens in the future.
Brunei’s Commitment at National and International Platforms
At the state and regional level, the narrative of becoming good environmental citizens was developed by the government’s initiative in the Sustainable Development Program which started in 1991. Since then, Bruneian’s environmental awareness has heightened, and Brunei’s national and international environmental initiatives have been solidified. One example is Brunei’s international commitment in the Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), an international initiative to combat environmental issues. These agreements include Brunei’s membership in the Montreal Protocol in 1993, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2007, Kyoto Protocol in 2009, and Paris Agreement in 2015. The challenge for Brunei now is to find solutions at the state level to overcome climate change vulnerabilities that can impact the country’s future development. Since 2007, Brunei has invested in achieving the Brunei Vision 2035. However a question still lies—can national climate change be mitigated with this vision? The solution lies in educating and working together with its society.
The Paris Agreement is one of the most important agreements Brunei is affiliated with as it allowed ENGOs to work closely with the government. According to the Ministry of Energy in the opening remarks of the Paris Agreement in 2016, while Brunei only contributes 0.016% of total global emissions, it is still obliged to be part of mitigating climate change. Brunei as an oil-producing country is, however, suspected of consuming more energy than others. This inevitably makes the country a significant contributor to the progression of climate change. Additionally, Brunei has experienced various social and economic developments. Urbanisation, physical infrastructure, construction, and strong GDP per capita have led to higher consumption and operational activities. Consequently, Brunei has recorded the highest number of cars in operation in Southeast Asia with 721 per 1,000 cars in 2020. Also, Brunei’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions are higher than average in 2020, with 15.2 metric tons per person.
The establishment of the BCCS in 2018 was part of Brunei’s solution to mitigate the aforementioned environmental vulnerabilities. The BCCS is believed to be capable of evaluating climate change and other human and economic activities. However, similar with many other developing economies, Brunei’s resources are still of high economic interest. Fossil fuel, oil, and gas remain the best economic alternative to generate power to the state. Of these resources, fossil fuel is primarily used by Brunei to generate electricity. Though this is sustainable economically, but will it be sustainable to mitigate climate change?
Unfortunately, with the current COVID-19 development in Brunei, the demand for electricity skyrocketed especially for home users as the population works from home. This reinforces Brunei’s dependency on electricity as its main power resource. Nevertheless, Brunei is aware of the current magnitude that global warming has brought towards the tiny state. The disproportionate effects of climate change are disconcerting as it affects the earth’s natural systems that are attributed towards global warming such as the incidence of tropical storms or delays in wet seasons. As part of the initiative to reduce carbon emission, Brunei has developed a practical national strategy that corresponds with its economic development. As part of its strategy, Brunei is committed to reducing carbon emission largely generated from power utilities by at least 10% in the year 2035.