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

These and other storms underscore a long-term severe weather trend that promises to get worse. To understand the potential economic consequences of such increases based on the number and severity of the region’s storms, one need only focus on the Asian Development Bank’s estimate that the cost of natural disasters within Asia has outpaced its gross domestic product growth during the last four decades. 

Additional impacts of climate change are also likely on the way. For example, global warming will result in the expansion of the water column, especially in the tropics, leading to increased coastal inundation and saltwater intrusion into agricultural areas and freshwater aquifers.

Asean’s great coastal cities and communities are also at risk. More than half of Southeast Asia’s population lives in coastal areas. The fact that the region has very low rates of insurance makes Asean’s exposure to climate change even worse. For example, it has been estimated that of the $45.7 billion in losses caused by the 2011 floods in Thailand, only $12 billion was covered by insurance and most of that was for business interruptions. Similarly, of the $14 billion in losses associated with Typhoon Haiyan, only between $1 billion and $2 billion was insured. This is hardly a surprise. Insurance rates in Asia are only 7.6 percent, compared to 67 percent in the United States. Stating the obvious, when people don't have insurance their governments either pick up the check or, as is more often the case, they go without and struggle to recover from the disasters that have befallen them. 

Science-based partnerships and understanding can help address these climate change challenges. There are a wide variety of science and technology tools and best practices to inform Asean’s leaders how best to strengthen urban and community resilience to these expected changes. For example, with regard to flooding and water management, which are critical challenges, tools include geospatial maps to visualize risks to natural and other assets. These maps can be integrated with many other types of data, including where people live and their demographics. Models can project the amount of sea level rise and inundation, helping to plan for growing communities and prepare for and respond to natural disasters. There are also planning tools that can assist in designing and implementing green infrastructure strategies, such as well-designed landscapes to reduce stormwater runoff and flooding. Green infrastructure solutions can contribute to improved flood protection, energy savings, air quality, property values and healthier communities.

For communities that want to consider human health impacts of water management projects and plans, a health impact assessment tool can be used to maximize health benefits and minimize adverse health impacts that might otherwise not be considered. Fortunately, some Asean member countries are starting to develop health impact assessments to inform policy-making and even integrating them as part of environmental assessment processes. 

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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