|The secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Le Luong Minh. — Photo AFP
BANGKOK, THAILAND (VNS) — The secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Le Luong Minh, has urged the bloc's policymakers and businesses to pro-actively take decisions and actions to tackle challenges to sustainable development.
With just a year left for the formation of the ASEAN Community there is an urgent need to understand the parameters of sustainability and resilience needed to take on the defining and life-changing issues of our time such as climate change, water scarcity, and food and energy concerns, he said.
Minh was addressing the 2014 ASEAN Sustainable Development Symposium held last Friday in Bangkok by Thai conglomerate SCG, which has been named by the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes as the world's top sustainable development model in the construction materials industry every year since 2011.
The secretary-general said the event is a key platform for sharing practical ideas and successful corporate practices to expand the opportunities for sustainable development of the region.
"As we forge ahead with our regional economic integration efforts, we also have to ensure the judicious use of our rich natural resources which sustain vital life support systems, fostering economic growth without degrading the natural environment.
"As a people-centred ASEAN Community, we also need to meet the needs of nearly 625 million ASEAN people who are rapidly moving up the human development ladder, while enhancing their resilience and social protection systems against natural and man-made disasters."
Though the region has rich natural resources, over the years they resources have been under increasing threat, he said.
Fast growing populations and changing demographics and rapid economic growth combined with the existing bloc-wide social disparities have exerted daunting pressures and brought various common environmental issues such as air, water, and land pollution, urban environmental degradation, transboundary haze, and depletion of natural resources, particularly biological diversity, he said.
It has also led to increased consumption of resources and generation of waste, resulting in unsustainable development, and ASEAN, like others, is therefore facing an enormous challenge in keeping a delicate balance of environmental sustainability and economic development, he warned.
"The ASEAN Vision 2020 calls for a clean and green ASEAN with fully established mechanisms to ensure the protection of the environment, sustainability of natural resources, and high quality of life of people in the region."
He admitted that the path to a green ASEAN community has not been and is not going to be smooth.
The globalising world, which is driven by rapid technological progress, intense economic competition, and the unsustainable consumption of natural resources is a reality that ASEAN has to face, he said.
"Next year and in the years to come ASEAN would have to confront and address these challenges, and it is important that it strives to find a balance between economic development and sustainable environment that meet the current and future needs.
"We hope that through our efforts to build a politically cohesive, economically integrated and socially responsible, people-centred and people-oriented ASEAN Community, we are also building a community not only for the present but future generations of ASEAN peoples," he added.
Kan Trakulkoon, president and CEO of SCG, said the symposium aimed to create a network of sustainability which should lead to real ‘sustainable development' throughout the entire process of businesses.
"It is evident that the world population is set to increase to over 9,000 million within the next 35 years whereas natural resources have become ever so limited.
"More than 200 business leaders around the world have unanimously agreed in the ‘Vision 2050' that it is mandatory for businesses to make a balance between human economy and natural resources. It is also required that we create and make a better society to live in.
"Sustainable development is then not merely a choice, but a ‘Must Have Agenda' for all businesses that requires thorough planning and tangible scheming so that we can maintain our business growth and at the same time sustain our limited natural resources and make a good balanced living.
"We need to reform by working together. And that does not only mean sharing information, joining each other's corporate social responsibility projects, or passing the torch and execute, but also whole-heartedly collaborating with a thorough strategic plan that will become a true force for real sustainability throughout ASEAN in future."
The business sector is the real player that could create hope for change due to its flexibility, drivability, speed, and ability to extend throughout the supply chain.
"Though each business is dedicated to doing its best to fulfill its responsibilities, that may not be enough for the changes. Collaboration is therefore the power to develop things from ‘good' to ‘great'. So collaboration is the approach to proper business that is well accepted and meets the expectations of society."
Roongrote Rangsiyopash, chairman of the SCG Sustainable Development Committee, said: "SCG has its own sustainable master plan in which we emphasise first and foremost our own internal operation before reaching out to the entire production process – from the supply chain to the end users.
"We make sure that our procurement is safe for the environment by establishing a ‘Greening the Supply Chain' standard to ensure our partners' safety and sustainability measures.
"We also train our logistics partners with proper disciplines while taking care of society through many of our community projects."
Yvo de Boer, director general of the Seoul-headquartered international Global Green Growth Institute, noted that many developing countries have started formulating policy frameworks that prescribes balanced growth for long-term sustainability, but the speed with which those policies are translated into reality on the ground simply cannot keep up with the economic advance.
"Therefore public-private sector collaboration – as evident here today – will speed up the realisation of sustainability." — VNS