IN THE JOURNAL | COVER STORY
Asean's sustainable future? Science and technology
October-December 2015
By: David L Carden and Montira J Pongsiri

Unfortunately, such as with the rest of the world, Asean and its member states don’t always factor in these costs in developing a response to the problem. This is due to two factors: the time during which effects happen and the geography of those effects. Said simply, not all adverse health impacts from burning are immediate or local. Some of the more serious respiratory and cardiovascular outcomes can occur in the longer term. 

Fortunately, there are tools to measure past and future damage that haze has caused and will continue to cause if it is not prevented. A US-based consortium of universities conducted research in Asean that links the generation and transport of fire emissions with known public health impacts resulting from exposure to the resulting pollution. Their study makes it possible to quantify the public health impacts of air pollution, including haze traveling across borders. The consortium found that protecting peatlands from degradation and burning would reduce smoke concentrations in Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra province, and Singapore by more than 90 percent, and by 80 percent in other parts of equatorial Asia. The approach the universities took quantifies the health benefits created by keeping carbon locked up in trees, peat and other soil as opposed to releasing it into the atmosphere. The study’s results underscore the importance of peatland conservation for both environmental protection and measurable public health benefits.

Another tool relates to pollution that is primarily caused by industry and vehicular traffic. This tool has been deployed in well-publicized programs developed and implemented by the United States to measure the concentration of particulate matter in urban environments. The air quality monitoring program at the US Embassy in Beijing is an excellent example of how data-sharing can lead to an increased awareness of risk and can inform responses by policymakers to adopt pollution reduction goals and preventative measures. There are plans to implement the US monitoring program in other countries around the world.

These and other tools can benefit Southeast Asia’s leaders. They can assist them in gathering the information they need to make more informed decisions on how best to promote the development of Asean’s human capital, and in convincing their citizens to support the plans they decide to implement. These tools could inform land-use decisions so as to avoid other harmful effects to health. And they could assist in making the case to hold those responsible for illegal land burning accountable for their actions by providing evidence that prosecutors and litigants need. The health of Asean’s people is critical to its future and knowing how to protect them from air pollution and other pollutants could play a major role in whether the region will realize its potential.  

Nutrition: Fisheries management and conservation

COMMENTS
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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