By Khine Kyaw
Bangkok, Thailand, November 23, 2015
Asean countries need to integrate appropriate safeguards to ensure inclusiveness and sustainability in any benefits to be brought about by the Asean Economic Community (AEC), experts said recently.
At a Bangkok symposium on “Shared solutions: Safeguarding sustainable development in the Mekong region”, Venkatachalam Anbumozhi, senior energy economist at the Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia, said AEC will propel infrastructure investment in the Mekong region.
The benefits of AEC for the subregion include faster and more dynamic economic growth, stronger Asian voices in international forums, an alternative to global multilateral institutions, less poverty and better social indicators.
Yet, the benefits outweighed its costs – greater divide between rich and poor, loss of independence of national economic policies, weaker economic linkages with non-Asian countries and a loss of national culture and identity.
He called for proper environmental safeguards. This issue is challenging as Asean has a diverse mix of environmental and natural resources, a different environmental governance structure, dynamic legal regime, land tenure and taxation, and absence from region-wide institutions and systems to regulate, manage and monitor social and ecological impacts.
To improve regional cooperation, it is important to establish a standard approach that is programmatic, systematic, sequenced, targeted and transparent; to adopt a coherent framework for safeguard policies, legislation, tools and initiatives that compliment and strengthen each other; and to integrate policies in the administrative and legislative dimensions.
Networking and institution building, data and information management, education and training, international best practices and dispute settlement are the strategies to achieve the target.
“Asean is different from the European Union, which has a wide range of diversity. We need to learn how they can move forward with this diversity. Both government-to-government and business-to-business cooperation, coordination and collaboration are needed. Development will largely depend on how far we are going,” he said.
At the event, Matthew Baird, of Environmental Counsel Asia, stressed the importance of climate change and environmental impact assessments (EIAs). Countries in the region need to seriously take into consideration the two factors for all investment projects.
“It is time for an Asean framework convention on EIA to ensure the bloc will see further developments in the near future,” he said.
The framework convention should cover regional EIA capacity-building, access to information and public participation, registration and training of EIA consultants, transboundary EIA assessment, strategic environmental assessment and screening lists for projects.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, compared to the climate in 1961-90, the average global temperature will increase by 1 degree Celsius from 2010-39 and 3-4 degrees from 2070-99.
Average rainfall will decrease by 20 millimetre from 2010-39, then increase by 60mm from 2070-99. Globally, water has been projected to be a key indicator of these changes. The increase in fossil fuel consumption for economic development directly leads to an increase of carbon dioxide emissions as the major man-made cause of climate change.
Actions on climate change were part of the United Nations’ new 17 sustainable development goals. Countries are being invited to submit their action plans on the issue to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, as the world is expected to strike a new universal climate change agreement at the UN climate conference in Paris in December.
The Paris agreement will go into effect in 2020, empowering all countries to act to prevent average global temperatures rising above 2 degrees Celsius and to reap the many opportunities that arise from a necessary global transformation to clean and sustainable development.
Over 50 countries have submitted their action plans, including four Asean members – Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia.
During the Union Nations General Assembly last week, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said, “We have no hope of ending extreme poverty unless we tackle climate change”.
According to data from the World Wildlife Fund, across the Mekong region, temperatures rose by 0.5-1.5C in the past 50 years. The region is vulnerable to climate change with expected impacts on the region’s terrestrial, freshwater, estuarine and marine ecosystems.
According to a report by the Asian Development Bank, Thailand’s temperature increased from 1-1.8C in the past 50 years, while Vietnam’s temperature increased by 0.7C during this period.
The climate change action plans of the countries in the subregion mainly involve energy policies.
Thailand targets to boost the renewable energy portion to 20.3 per cent by 2022. Vietnam’s renewable energy portion will be raised to 5 per cent by 2020 and 11 per cent by 2050. Cambodia aims to raise both the electrification rate and renewable portion to 100 per cent by 2020. Laos aims to extend electricity access to 90 per cent of households by 2020 and increase renewable energy to 30 per cent by 2025.
Seree Nonthasoot, Thailand’s representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, said human rights and environmental issues are interlinked.
Asean should adopt people-oriented and gender-responsive development programmes, and needs to develop a CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategy for the grouping. The current discussion on CSR and human rights should be broadened to include other stakeholders.
“Asean needs to incorporate human rights into community vision. Development of regional guidelines and closer cooperation among regional stakeholders is essential. Alignment between NAPs (national action plans) and existing human rights action plans is also needed,” he said.
Image: The Mekong Eye