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March 30, 2017

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SE Asia gains climate clout after storm

BANGKOK -- A deadly typhoon that scythed through Southeast Asia has underscored the area's vulnerability to climate change — but it may have also finally given regional nations a voice at crucial environment talks.

Delegates from 192 countries are meeting in Bangkok until October 9 in a desperate bid to thrash out the draft text of a global warming treaty that world leaders aim to sign in Copenhagen in December.

Small nations most likely to suffer the effects of global warming have in the past been overshadowed in climate talks, with major greenhouse gas emitters such as the United States, Europe, China and India taking center-stage.

But after Typhoon Ketsana killed more than 300 people in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos this week, Southeast Asian nations suddenly found themselves with a podium from which to call on richer nations to do more.

"These countries (in Southeast Asia) in a way are the canary in the mine, they're the ones that will be confronted by the impacts of climate change if we fail to reach an agreement in Copenhagen," U.N. Climate Chief Yvo de Boer told AFP.

He said that Southeast Asia's long coastlines and high population density make it one of the world's most vulnerable areas if global warming continues.

"We're in a region that's going to be incredibly impacted by climate change — that goes for the coastal cities that are likely to be impacted by sea level rise that are already affected by severe storms, flooding, changing weather patterns," he said.

The Philippines made an impassioned plea at the Bangkok talks on Wednesday, saying that Typhoon Ketsana showed the need for developed nations to cut emissions.

The disaster-prone country's chief negotiator Secretary Heherson Alvarez said that if the storm spurred richer countries to act then "the ruin and the pain may not have been in vain."

The Bangkok talks have been mired in the same row between developed and developing nations as previous climate negotiations — over who should cut carbon emissions and pay for the necessary steps.

Poorer nations effectively say they will not slow their development and the West must cut back first on emissions, as well as paying for the cost of adapting to climate change.

Developing countries will need up to US$100 billion (80 billion euros) a year for 40 years to combat the effects, a World Bank report said on Tuesday.

Richer nations say that the developing nations, especially the major emitters of tomorrow, should also pledge to curb their output of greenhouse gases.

The debate has until now left Southeast Asian nations on the sidelines, since they are generally asking for aid to help cope with the effects — without having the negotiating clout linked to emissions cuts pledges.

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