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

There is much that is required to set Asean on a sustainable path to continued growth. The list is long. It includes the need for a regional identity; a shared plan for sustainable growth; revenue generation, which will require tax reform and addressing corruption; developing more robust institutions to deploy Asean’s scarce resources efficiently and equitably; and establishing the rule of law to encourage foreign investment to contribute to Asean’s future. 

Much has been written and said about these needs. But in this essay, we will focus on one that tends to get less attention: the role that science and technology (S&T) can play to enable Asean’s sustainable growth.

The US Mission to Asean, based in Jakarta, developed a focus on science and technology shortly after it began operations in 2010. This focus grew out of a desire to support the rapid urbanization of the region and help Asean address issues that relate to the linkages between our human and natural systems, particularly the increasing pressure human population growth and development are putting on Southeast Asia’s natural resources.

While S&T is not the only tool needed to meaningfully address these issues, it is an important one that has not been adequately utilized. That is beginning to change. The reason for this change can be found in the growing awareness that what worked in the past to grow economies may no longer be possible. In this essay, we will focus on three specific issues that are challenging or will challenge the efficacy of these past approaches, and for which the US Mission to Asean developed programs or encouraged initiatives – climate change, impacts on human health from pollution, and poor nutrition.   

Three challenges to continued growth 

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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