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Overcoming Environmental Challenges and Promoting Social Sustainability in Southeast Asia


  December 17th 2021

Save the Earth Campaign (Photo by: Vlad Tchompalov on unsplash.com)

The world today faces two vital challenges, namely global inequality and climate change. The alarming pace of climate change, environmental degradation, and the struggle for global resources pose an unprecedented threat to humanity. Solutions to both of these problems are urgently needed, but with current policies, the two have the potential to come into conflict with one another. Following that, Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (EARTH), The Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MER), The Center for Environmental Science and Ecology, Ho Chi Minh University (HCM CITY), and The Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS), Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta organized an online seminar and discussions on November 20, 2021, entitled ‘Overcoming Environmental Challenges and Promoting Social Sustainability in Southeast Asia.’ This forum aims to encourage knowledge sharing among practitioners and experts in the region to learn more about emerging issues of vulnerability in countries in Southeast Asia, particularly about social protection, demographic shifts, and climate change. A further goal is to find policies that encourage the realization of existing ideas in the pursuit of inclusive sustainable development and how to integrate social policy/perspectives into broader and more complex policy-making processes, and vice versa, incorporating economic and environmental perspectives into social policymaking.

The first speaker of the forum was Ms. Penchom Saetang, Executive Director of The Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (EARTH). Saetang argues that the major challenges for environmental and social sustainability include continual moving towards the global and regional trade and economic power, extensive/aggressive promotion of economic and industrial investment at the national level caused by the establishment of free trade areas, free custom of foreign investment and special economic zones followed by lack of good governance and increasing violation of people’s rights, increasing overpopulation that leads to overconsumption of natural resources, increasing toxic contamination of the land, water, and air, and the larger extensive impact on climate. Environmental and labor exploitation is also a challenge under the issue of transboundary movements of waste. Thus, according to Ms. Saetang, the solution to this problem should must be found at the international and national levels. Furthermore, Dr. Hezrin Adnan Executive Director of The Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MER), as the second speaker, explains the context of ecological challenges in Malaysia. According to Adnan, there are five environmental maladies (a malady is a disease or a problem in the way something works) of sustainable development that he and his team are now researching. The maladies are social-environmental apathy, ineffectual policy implementation, anti-ecological land-use, outdated federalism, and political will absent. Therefore, Adnan argues that the policies and solutions for those maladies should involve all stakeholders, namely government, academicians/researchers, environmental activists, and civil society.

The third speaker was Dr. Le Phat Quio, Vice Director of The Center for Environmental Science and Ecology, Ho Chi Minh University (HCM CITY), Vietnam. His presentation was entitled ‘The Issues of Sustainable Land Use in the Context of Climate Change in the Lower Mekong Delta, Vietnam’. Quoi explains that, in the context of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta plays an important role in Vietnam's economic development, especially in agricultural production in which rice production has supplies the whole country and regional markets. However, most of the local people's lives have faced many difficulties affecting their sustainable life and production, particularly under the impacts of climate change. Furthermore, there are also problems related to policies and investment including lack of suitable policies for agriculture in difficult zones, limited transportation network during a long period, and the limited facilities used for production post-harvest. Therefore, according to Quoi, it is very important to restructure a suitable farming system to adapt to climate change, particularly in the brackish ecosystem. Other solutions that might be proposed are the development of an aquaculture system instead of rice, development of aquaculture areas, introducing farming systems of rice mangrove or shrimp rice, and restoration of coastal mangrove and inland Melaleuca forests.

Finally, the fourth speaker was Dr. Dicky Sofjan, Core Doctoral Faculty, of The Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS), Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta. He delivered a presentation entitled 'Social and Ecological Sustainability in Asia'. In his presentation he explains that there are several roots of the problem of the ecological crisis that the world is facing today. First is the world population growth or overpopulation. The second is overconsumption which is closely related to overpopulation. Furthermore, the development sustainability transition in Asia has become inextricably linked to the complex nature of power relations. Unfortunately, civic engagement is very limited due power asymmetry that creates inequality, injustice, and indignity. Interestingly, Sofjan also reminds us that today 65-80% of the world population lives in cities. Therefore, it is important to co-design sustainable, just, and smart urban living. Previously, from 2019-2021, ICRS hosted a program to raise these issues by inviting mayors and regents, NGOs, academics, grassroots leaders, etc. The main findings of this program are the needs for inclusion and diversity, democratic and open governance, and servant leadership to overcome environmental challenges and promote social sustainability. In doing so, all stakeholders need to collaborate. Social and ecological sustainability requires a radical transformation of the mindset, lifestyles, business practices, and governance. The 'Heartware' of social and ecological sustainability is crucial to lay the groundwork for this necessary transformation.