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The Case for ASEAN to Embrace Green Growth

01 Jun The Case for ASEAN to Embrace Green Growth

As the ASEAN Chair for 2018, Singapore is focusing on themes of resilience and innovation. In January, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced plans to start some ASEAN projects aimed at strengthening ASEAN’s collective resilience against common threats such as climate change.

Climate change, however, is one of many environmental challenges facing the region. In fact, some countries in ASEAN are emphasising green growth in their national development strategies due to growing recognition that environmental and climate issues can lead to severe economic impacts.

What does “green growth” exactly entail? What are the motivations for ASEAN countries to embrace green growth? These questions were recently explored at the 5th Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources (SDSWR) on 18th May, organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA).

Developing Climate-Resilient Economies

Green growth is a key component of sustainable development that emphasises intergenerational equitability, preserving natural capital to continue providing goods and services without borrowing from the future. While traditionally green growth aims for a low-carbon economy, the term also refers more broadly to sustainability, resilience and efficiency in management of climate and natural resources.

Some studies have highlighted ASEAN’s vulnerability to climate change: Myanmar, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand rank 3rd, 5th, 8th and 9th respectively. According to Philippines Senator Loren Legarda, the agricultural sector in ASEAN for instance, is projected to lose up to 50 per cent of its rice yield potential and 6.7 per cent of combined GDP annually by 2100. Millions of lives will be affected due to potential food shortage and loss of primary income.

Building climate-resilient economies is key, and this will require changes in how industries operate. In the agriculture sector, the adoption of sustainable production methods brings environmental benefits and helps preserve the longevity of economic output. For example, since 2014, Vietnam has conducted successful pilot programs in rice agriculture using “organic fertilisers that reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) emissions, climate-smart crop rotations and water-saving irrigation strategies”. These programmes have the potential to scale-up and be replicated in other ASEAN countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Preparing a Future-Ready Workforce

As industries change and other sectors such as renewable energy grow in importance, additional jobs will be created. These jobs could be filled by the large untapped labour in ASEAN countries. Indonesia for instance, possesses a burgeoning young population, according to Indonesia’s Minister of National Development Planning Bambang Permadi Soemantri Brodjonegoro.

To further grow these green industries, countries will do well to equip their workforce with the necessary knowledge and skills which these activities demand. Singapore has begun doing so through initiatives such as the Sustainability Internship Program under the UN Global Compact Network.

In the long-term, these efforts will be valuable in helping countries to build a competitive edge when they can offer various green solutions to the world.

A Stronger, Better ASEAN

Green growth can serve as an important platform to strengthen ASEAN solidarity. As the ASEAN Chair for 2018, Singapore can help forge greater multilateral cooperation by promoting mutual and collective learning, and building stronger intra-ASEAN partnerships. In doing so, ASEAN can gain institutional strength and resilience in dealing with transboundary issues such as climate change and be a more effective player in global governance.



Singapore to focus on themes of resilience, innovation as ASEAN chairman [Channel NewsAsia, 12 Jan 2018]

What is green growth and how can it help deliver sustainable development? [OECD]

Why green growth is the key to Southeast Asia’s future [Eco-Business, 9 Jun 2016]

A Region at Risk – The Human Dimensions of Climate Change in Asia and the Pacific (PDF) [ADB, 2017]

Climate change and impacts on rice production in Vietnam: Pilot testing of potential adaptation and mitigation measures (PDF) [Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VAAS) and the Norwegian Institute for Agriculture and Environmental Research (Bioforsk), Jun 2014]

Sustainability Internship Program [UN Global Compact Network Singapore]