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

The US Mission to Asean brought some of these tools to its member states, using a science-based approach to its sustainable cities partnership with eight cities in seven Asean countries. It highlighted the need to protect the services that urban ecosystems provide and to take into account social equity. Participants in the program were especially interested in technical tools for systems models to show the interconnections among economic development and social and environmental issues of concern; planning for green infrastructure; and for developing “what-if” scenarios to help predict future impacts of policies currently under consideration.

Based on this learning, participating teams strategized and committed to actions to help realize their sustainability plans. These included creating cross-sectoral working groups within their city governments; encouraging public participation in their planning processes to build broad support and to identify issues of greatest concern to their communities; and taking into account all of the costs associated with possible policies, including the often externalized environmental and social impacts. All of the city teams noted the desirability for continued US technical assistance, especially in support of climate adaptation planning and implementation, as well as the application of science and technology to address water management and to inform land-use planning.   

Human health and air pollution

Another example of science and technology engagement by the US Mission to Asean is related to air pollution, often referred to within the region as “haze,” which has been a longstanding problem. Air pollution now is the world’s largest single environmental health risk, with one-third of all the deaths occurring in the fast-growing cities in Asia (World Health Organization, 2014). There are various causes of air pollution, including industrial operations, motor vehicles, forest fires and the regionwide practice of land clearing by fire. Widespread exposure to air pollution led policymakers to use monitoring technologies to help them formulate responses.

Landscape fires in Asean are one of the region's greatest health risks, as well as being one of its greatest drivers of biodiversity loss and habitat destruction. Pollution from biomass burning leads to increased deaths and disabilities from cardiorespiratory disease, both within the borders of the countries where the fires are set and well beyond. The adverse consequences of failing to reduce this form of air pollution are many, including the obvious such as the loss of productivity and tourism, and short- and long-term impacts on human health. In addition, there is resulting damage to Asean’s human capital, the loss of biodiversity and the associated exacerbation of climate change. 

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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