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

So what can be done? The key for Asean is to minimize mistakes going forward to maximize the possibility of long-term growth as opposed to short-term, unsustainable gain. Mistakes are more costly than the price of avoiding them, especially when Asean and the rest of the world will have increasingly fewer opportunities and less time to recover when mistakes are made. Of course, it also is true that recovery from certain mistakes may not be possible. The pace of the transformation of the globe and the changes to its natural systems is picking up speed. At some unknown point we are likely to be too far down the road to turn back.

It also is true that a future of conflict related to scarce resources looms. So does the threat of human migration, which is accelerating based on both conflict and the shortage of such resources as water and food. Migration promises to inundate countries already trying to cope with the increasing demands of their own citizens. Their ability also to meet the needs of new arrivals, whose ability to contribute to their new home countries is modest at best, is doubtful.

This understandably is leading some countries to try to close their doors to their neighbors. But our interdependence is an incontrovertible fact. Disease, water, fish, pollution and the economies upon which we depend transcend national boundaries. It is ironic that some are reverting to their tribes at the very moment when the world is becoming more aware that the real boundaries that separate us are dissolving. Asean needs a unifying principle that recognizes this truth – an identity that recognizes the shared past, present and future of its people. Part of Asean’s ability to create such an identity will depend upon transborder approaches informed by the application of science and the use of existing and new technologies. In short, S&T can help. 

Meeting the challenges

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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