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Heat Is On for Southeast Asia to Shift to ‘Green Economy’ Paradigm PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 24 April 2014 00:00

By Peter Holmgren on 02:23 pm Apr 19, 2014

Each month in Southeast Asia, an area three times the size of Jakarta is stripped of its trees.

Across the region, forests are being cleared for their timber or for agriculture, or to make way for infrastructure and settlements. Indeed, the region’s surging economic growth in recent years has come, in large part, at the expense of natural resources, particularly forests.

Will this paradigm continue?

Will Southeast Asia all but run out of forests?

As things stand, the answer to these questions could be a resounding “no.”


Experts are pointing to a way out of the “environment vs. economy” dilemma. A shift to a “green economy” could integrate environmental and economic objectives into policies that encourage new sources of development — development that can support livelihoods without harming the landscape. A green economy has several key features: low carbon emissions, equitable development, social inclusiveness and greater efficiency in resource use. The green economy is also about making policies that reflect the full value of natural resources, particularly the value of ecosystem services, which are the benefits provided by healthy ecosystems such as forests.

In the case of forests, the list of ecosystem services is long. Among other things, forests provide habitat and clean water, regulate local and global climate, buffer weather events, protect watersheds, water flows and soils, store carbon, produce oxygen, and support pollination and nutrient cycling. They also provide genetic resources for crops and have spiritual, cultural, recreational and tourism values. Despite the crucial importance of forest services for human survival, however, the invisibility of these services in a market system means they tend to be taken for granted and perceived as “free.”

What distinguishes a green economy is its emphasis on accounting for natural capital. Having the true value of forests reflected in a green economy means that policymakers compare more options and think more holistically about forests, rather than thinking of them in terms of board-feet of timber or acreage of oil palm trees. Traditional economic indicators like gross domestic product, for example, do not reveal the price a country pays for loss of the ecosystem services that forests provide.

And in those terms, Southeast Asia has paid a steep price. Though the region has dazzled the world with its economic dynamism, it has suffered from compromised water and air quality, degraded forests and imperiled biodiversity. At the turn of the 21st century, Southeast Asia became the world’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from land-use change. Agriculture, including cash crop plantations such as oil palm, timber for pulp and paper, and rubber, is the primary driver of deforestation in the region. Logging accounts for more than 70 percent of total degradation.

Nevertheless, this region charges on. The world’s highest rates of economic and population growth are right here: By 2030, Southeast Asia is expected to have 84 million more people — the equivalent of adding another Vietnam, but without any additional land. A commensurate increase in consumer, food and energy needs in the region will intensify pressure on the region’s forest landscapes.

Properly implemented, “green growth” policies could slow the pace of environmental degradation — and even turn the problem around, restoring damaged natural capital and creating jobs in the process. Achieving this will require policies that support responsible investment in agriculture, forestry, recycling, renewable energy and other green sectors.

The good news is that green-growth policies are already being implemented in the region. Cambodia and Vietnam have implemented green growth road maps. Indonesia has committed to a 26 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

In Borneo — home to one of Southeast Asia’s largest intact tropical forests — Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia are implementing a green economy approach that values the forest’s ecosystem services, recognizes the livelihood support the forest offers to one million indigenous people and acknowledges its global role in combatting climate change.

In 2012, the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly drew up a Draft Resolution on “The Creation of a Green Economy to Promote Sustainable Development.”

And governments and businesses across the region are showing increasing commitment to sustainable land use and investment practices, engaging in such initiatives as the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze, Voluntary Partnership Agreements under the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, and REDD+, which stands for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and foster conservation.

Myanmar, too, is gradually adopting a green-growth approach as it increasingly opens to foreign investment. Last December, the government hosted its third Green Economy Green Growth Forum, attended by environmentalists, scientists, diplomats and officials from UN agencies and international organizations.

Attention will be paid to how Myanmar’s leaders face the challenge of providing economic growth for the country’s 60 million people — a quarter of whom live in poverty — while managing the country’s rich natural resources for future generations. The test will come sooner rather than later, with foreign investment in 2013-14 already approaching 2012-13’s record $2.7 billion.

The world’s investment interest in Myanmar will be a point of discussion when ministers from around Southeast Asia meet at the Forests Asia Summit in Jakarta next month. Alongside chief executives, civil society leaders, development experts and the world’s top scientists, they will be examining how governments in the region can better develop a green economy through improved forest and landscape management.

Given the demands that a growing population — and a growing middle class — will make on Southeast Asia’s forests, the discussion could not come at a more critical time.

Peter Holmgren is director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Source: thejakartaglobe

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 February 2014 03:40