Emma Davies l Palladium - Apr 05 2024
Faster and at Scale: Climate Solutions from South-East Asia

Matt Spannagle is Palladium’s Climate and Nature Director for Asia Pacific, where he oversees a portfolio of €40M in active programs. Spannagle has devoted much of his career to combating climate change and monitoring and reporting on its impacts.

We recently spoke with him on the current state and scale of the climate crisis and why he’s seeking hope in the solutions being developed in Asia Pacific.

2023 was the hottest year since records began in 1850. What is the significance of that?

It’s hard to understate the significance. 2023 was the hottest year by a wide margin - global temperatures exceeded 2°C for several days in August and exceeded 1.5°C for more than 100 days throughout the year. Each month from June to December was warmer than the corresponding month in any previous year!

But the global average change is not the most immediate problem. The problem is how that manifests in the extremes, and the increase in events, such as tropical cyclones, wind-storms, rain bombs, heatwaves, droughts and wildfires.

Think about your country or near neighbours – were there climate disasters last year? Probably, yes, and probably devastating for those affected. There certainly were in Australia and Asia Pacific. This is happening globally; more often, more intensely, and in a more unpredictable way.

Why does this matter?

Close to our region is the great 7th continent of Antarctica. In mid-February, more than 2000km (roughly Antwerp to Lisbon, or NYC to Miami) of Antarctic coast that ‘should have been’ icebound – that is, sea ice all the way to the shore – but was not. This is dire for marine and birdlife whose evolution relied on "ice shelves” (i.e., floating ice) for hunting and breeding. Emperor penguin colonies are plummeting. There’s not enough data to know what it means for sea leopards, but it is unlikely to be good news.

More coastline exposed to (relatively) warm ocean waters accelerates the melting of onshore ice sheets and glaciers. Parts of Antarctica’s landscape are long slopes toward the Southern oceans. These slopes are covered in ice that is thousands of metres deep, but historically rarely calve icebergs as they are pinned in place by sea ice.

That is rapidly changing.

Thwaites glacier, which is about the size of Cambodia or Senegal, the so-called ‘doomsday glacier’, is seeing accelerated melting and movement due to ocean exposure. It is accelerating exponentially, not linearly. If Thwaites goes, and triggers the glaciers around it, we’re looking at around 3m of sea level rise globally over 10 to 20 years. Good-bye London, New York, Shanghai, Jakarta, Bangkok and all the atoll countries in the Pacific. Think of the human migration.

This is a really dire outlook. Do you see any positive signs that things can improve?

It’s not that change can’t be made. It can. And there are bright spots: in the last several years, emissions in the EU have declined 6-8% a year, which is the sort of rate needed to keep us under 2°C and get close to 1.5°C. Emissions in Germany in 2023 were the lowest they’ve been in 70 years. That’s remarkable! And for the EU overall, they were the lowest they’ve been in 60 years.

So, it can be done.

Not everywhere looks like Europe, so we must find other paths and means to match that progress in the places where we work.

What does the picture look like in Asia Pacific?

South-East Asia is among the regions most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. It is also home to some of the world’s most important ecosystems, including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and Indonesia's coral reefs, tropical forests, and mangrove ecosystems which together make up one of the greatest concentrations of biodiversity on earth.

Here in Asia Pacific, innovative solutions to the climate crisis are showing positive results. For example, the MENTARI program in Indonesia is developing low-carbon energy solutions supporting the country’s just energy transition. Through the program, we are partnering with policy makers to finance the installation of mini-grids in remote villages, providing electricity to rural households for the first time.

Through Regeneration, our partnership with Systemiq, Palladium is developing finance facilities that attract private investment into regenerative agriculture: avoiding emissions from deforestation, and sequestering emissions (that is, removing CO2 from the atmosphere through biomass). These are practical ‘nature based solutions’.

Meanwhile in Australia, Palladium is working with the Australian government to kick-start an innovative reef credit scheme and support the growth of an environmentally important market. Reducing the flow of sediment and other pollutants in the water reduces stress on reefs, helping them survive for longer in the warming seas to continue to provide important ecosystems for life under water.

With partner Green Collar, we are working to secure new investments and work with landholders to prevent sediment from reaching the Great Barrier Reef, improving the water quality, and enabling them to earn additional income by generating and selling Reef Credits.

What can we do to scale the successes we’ve seen in South-East Asia?

The types of solutions that we are supporting in South-East Asia can and should be replicated and scaled elsewhere. This will require multi-stakeholder partnerships, collaboration, and investment.

We have learnings from across our business about how to work with partners to develop and scale climate solutions and build greater resilience to climate change and disasters, now and in the future. The picture is far from rosy, but solutions exist.

Now is the time to mobilise at the pace and scale that’s needed!