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

Science can give Asean a better understanding of changing environmental conditions so it can better plan for the future. By utilizing science-based tools, the association can develop and implement plans to prepare for and mitigate against the adverse impacts related to issues such as climate change, the effects of pollution on human health, and poor nutrition, all of which affect Asean’s productivity. Presently, there is no roadmap showing what it can do to prevent and respond to these challenges in the long term.

One of the things Asean will need to do is utilize science and technology to understand the impacts on health and the environment from current growth and development patterns, and to understand the nature of the problems it is facing and likely changes that are coming. Science-based understanding can inform policies and decisions and help reduce the risk of future mistakes, which are costly and from which it will be increasingly difficult to recover. Innovation in S&T can help Asean meet its sustainability challenges by presenting opportunities to grow in the way we need; for example, through low-carbon technologies and using alternative energy sources.

From the early days of its engagement with the region, the US Mission to Asean identified the need to apply S&T to help meet the region’s sustainability goals by strengthening science-based policy-making. The US mission’s first new hire was a science adviser who was a professional scientist with a doctorate and background in environmental health sciences. Other US missions and embassies have had science advisers, but few if any ambassadors have had the benefit of a professional scientist to advise them concerning science and technology.

The US State Department recently recognized the important role that science and technology can play in the implementation of foreign policy. In a new report at the request of the State Department, the US National Academies of Sciences highlighted the critical role S&T can play in a range of foreign policy issues. The report calls for the State Department to strengthen and continue to develop its science and technology capabilities, and to create S&T programs in the field to provide opportunities for bilateral and multilateral collaboration. For Asean and the United States, continuing to strengthen S&T cooperation would provide more opportunities for Asean to address the challenges it faces in developing sustainably.

The US Mission developed a multiyear plan to engage the region in S&T cooperation, including development of a program to support the region’s cities to adapt to climate change; implementing the US-Asean Science and Technology Fellows Program, which is aimed at strengthening capacity in science-based policy-making; advocating for putting sustainable fisheries management on the Asean agenda; proposing a monitoring program to assess greenhouse gas emissions in the region; and evaluating the public health impacts of haze pollution.

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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