I have been in Brunei Darussalam now for three months. I am very grateful for the warm welcome I have received here.
Bruneians’ warmth and hospitality is legendary, and it is clear that there is great affection towards my country, the United Kingdom (UK). On the British side, too, we know we have no better friend in Southeast Asian than Brunei.
I have spent each of the last 12 weeks exploring different aspects of our relationship, from defence to education to our shared common law system. But perhaps the greatest of Brunei’s many treasures is its amazing natural environment.
The country has an astonishing diversity of plants and animals. A highlight of my time so far has been releasing an endangered pangolin back into the wild. And your forests and the peat they sit on also play a vital role for the whole world, locking up carbon that would otherwise be adding to the ‘greenhouse effect’, which is heating up our planet.
Brunei deserves much credit for protecting so much of its pristine forests.
But unfortunately, the environment – and humanity – faces a grave threat from climate change. The UK, in common with other countries, has been experiencing much freak weather in recent years – the early but unmistakable signs of a changing climate: People sunbathing in February; weeks on end with the temperature in the mid-30s.
The world needs to take urgent action to cut the carbon emissions, which are destabilising the climate. This is the reason that the UK is hosting – with Italy – the next global climate change conference (COP26) in November 2021 and a virtual Climate Ambition Summit on December 12 this year.
Fortunately, some of the biggest emitters are taking action.
But we need all countries to step up, especially the wealthier nations. Brunei’s total emissions are relatively small, yet according to the World Bank, Bruneians are the world’s eighth largest emitters on a per-capita basis.
It will be hard to ask much poorer countries to take action unless wealthier ones lead the way.
I am pleased that Brunei has, this year, launched its National Climate Change Policy, and that the UK has been able to support vital analysis to support more ambitious targets.
In other positive news, the cost of renewable energy is falling fast. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has said that solar power is now the cheapest form of power globally.
And the curse of COVID-19 at least has a silver lining – that we have an opportunity to build back better and greener.
A recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency showed that investing in renewables could create 42 million new jobs globally by 2050. Already in the UK, hundreds of thousands of people are employed in the low-carbon economy, building everything from electric cars to wind turbines.
With Brunei hosting the ASEAN Summit next October, just a few days before the UK hosts the climate conference, there is a great opportunity to work together to increase climate ambition across ASEAN. I am looking forward to working with my new Bruneian friends on this important issue.
Earlier this week, I visited the beautiful Berakas Forest Reserve, part of the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy. Over 500,000 trees have been planted there as part of the efforts to restore the ecosystem.
It is a great example of Brunei’s environmental stewardship, and it can be an inspiration to ASEAN and the world.
John Virgoe, British High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam