Will a top-down or a top-bottom approach save Asia and the world from climate change?
As part of the ADB’s annual No Impact Week, ADB senior management officials and experts engaged top youth debaters to discuss the best and most urgent approach to tackle global warming.
One cannot ignore the power and influence of the top-down approach. Governments have the capacity to pass laws that will compel businesses to reduce their carbon emissions, and governments to put mitigation and/or adaptation measures in place. For instance, Germany has enforced the use of feed-in tariffs, which is helping lower costs of solar technology worldwide.
However, a quick look at all the movements that have changed the world, whether it’s the right for women to vote or to overthrow dictators, will show you that behind these changes is a person, or a group of people, who dared to dream and chased that dream. In climate change, the trailblazers have been Bill McKibben, founder of the organization 350.org, and Alex Loorz, founder of the iMatter Youth Movement, who led fellow youth to sue the federal and state governments in the United States to secure climate recovery plans.
Before the debate began, the audience were asked to vote what they thought was the answer, and bottom-up was ahead with 32 from a total of 68 votes.
In favor of bottom-up
ADB Vice President Stephen P. Groff noted how greenhouse gas emissions have been going up despite focus on top-down approaches. What will change the world is “not going to be the governments telling us what to do,” he said. “It’s going to be us taking responsibility of the individual actions that we take every single day.”
Energy Specialist Sohail Hasnie talked about his experience in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, where policymakers and world leaders come together annually to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate from all nations: “They decide in a meeting when we [are] going to meet next.”
Youth debater Mikee de Vega compared the situation to a sinking ship: “Either we lessen the weight of the boat or we wait for the captain to do something… Our side will start pulling those [pieces of luggage] and throwing them into the ocean while their side will wait for the captain to say something.”
Social Development Specialist Haidy Ear-Dupuy concluded that governments can pass any act they want, “but if it doesn’t come from the people or the people don’t ask for it or need it, it won’t happen.”
In favor of top-down
For Climate Change Coordination and Disaster Risk Management Unit Head Preety Bhandari, individual actions “will only compliment a top-down regime where there is global coordinated architecture, which has legitimacy, fairness and equity considerations built in.”
Youth debater Vanessa Cabacungan argues that “when it comes to the questioning of maximizing profit at the expense of environmental degradation, the government must draw the line through effective policies and implementation of sanctions for private businesses, especially.”
“Those who refuse to cut down on carbon emissions and adopt environmental-friendly methods within their internal structures must be forced into accountability”, she continued. “And you can only do that when you have the authority to change those laws.”
ADB Managing Director General Juan Miranda cited ADB as an example of an institution that has the capacity to make positive changes. As a development bank, it can turn ideas and knowledge into investments. “ADB can make a difference by changing the narrative through infrastructure, energy, forests,” he shared.
After the debate, the audience members were again asked to vote. Bottom-up reached 50%, while top-down got to 40% and 10% remained undecided,