Asean's sustainable future? Science and technology
October-December 2015
By: David L Carden and Montira J Pongsiri

These and other programs put science and technology at the center of American diplomatic engagement in Asean. They helped provide tools to help Asean’s leaders address some of the challenges to its human and natural capital that threaten to limit the region's productivity. The following descriptions of the US mission’s S&T programming and advocacy are examples of the benefits such tools can provide with regard to climate change, the impact of pollution on human health and poor nutrition. 

Using science tools to build sustainable cities

Asean is predicted to be one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to climate change. Rising temperatures and sea levels are expected to inundate low-lying littoral regions, increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events and increase the risk of climate-sensitive diseases such as dengue fever and malaria. Said simply, the location of the region’s cities and farmland, its vulnerability to natural disasters and the undeveloped nature of its health care systems make its people among the most threatened by potential climate-related disruptions.

There is growing evidence that Southeast Asia already is suffering from the effects of climate change. For example, climate change has been projected to increase the frequency and severity of weather-related disasters, leading to increased economic losses. The 2011 floods in Thailand suggest this projection is already a reality. The World Bank estimates that those floods caused $45.7 billion in losses. Similarly, Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines in 2013, was the strongest recorded storm at landfall, with wind speeds reaching 235 miles per hour. It caused estimated losses of $14 billion.

Allison 11/03/2015 09:40 AM
David L Carden and Montira J Pongsiri rightly highlight how science and technology (S&T) could help address sustainability issues looming in ASEAN members’ futures. There is clearly a need for greater S&T collaboration throughout the Southeast Asian region, and Carden and Pongsiri provide valuable detail about the activities that the US Mission to ASEAN facilitates. However, I am surprised that ASEAN’s own S&T mechanisms were overlooked for their potential to contribute. ASEAN’s S&T activities trace to the establishment of the Committee on S&T (COST), which first convened in 1978. The high level body is a focal point for coordinating regional cooperation on S&T matters and has responsibility for developing ASEAN’s Plans for Action in S&T (APAST). The ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Science and Technology (AMMST) regularly brings together member leaders and S&T ministers to discuss regional issues of S&T significance, with an informal AMMST (IAMMST) interspersed between them. Contrary to what the authors state, ASEAN does in fact have long term planning initiatives in place that could help address regional sustainability. The extant APAST, which plans for the 2007-2011 timeframe (and was later extended to 2015), identifies several avenues of S&T cooperation that address issues such as climate change, renewable energies, transboundary marine pollution, and environmentally-friendly materials development. APAST’s planned successor, which is set to cover the 2016-2020 timeframe, will likely be organised around the eight thematic tracks identified at the 2010 Krabi Initiative. These tracks include green technologies, food security, water management, and biodiversity for health and wealth. In addition, COST coordinates several S&T flagship programs with aims in building an early warning system for disaster risk reduction, building climate change resilience in ASEAN, and reducing the incidence of infectious diseases in Southeast Asia. The challenge for ASEAN may well lie in implementation as it’s not always clear how such initiatives have progressed in practice. Yet ASEAN certainly has communicated a desire to support members in “moving up the technology ladder” and move away from economic growth that is founded on exploiting natural resources. At the eighth IAMMST in 2014, ministers agreed to a new vision that seeks to build “a Science, Technology and Innovation-enabled ASEAN which is innovative, competitive, vibrant, sustainable and economically integrated”. It is perhaps too early to tell how this will advance past a policy statement, but continued US technical assistance would definitely help this occur. S&T collaboration can facilitate a sustainable future for the region, though the best solution will be one that is entrenched within existing ASEAN mechanisms. This way, like Cardin and Pongsiri argue, we can see ASEAN building informed ASEAN solutions. ---------------------------- Dr Allison Sonneveld is a Research Officer for the Australian Army. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence, or the Australian Government.
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