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The proposed "ASEAN's Forth strategic Pillar on Environment ", 2009

*** This is a shortened version - for the full version, please contact us


Propose framework for

ASEAN-Civil Society Dialogue on Environment: Toward an Environmental Pillar 

(October 2009 Version)   

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Dialogue objective: Advance the calls of the 20-22 February APF Statement with senior ASEAN government officials, that ASEAN should launch a forth strategic Pillar on Environment and prepare a blueprint that commits that member states to place international best practices on environmental sustainability at the centre of decision making

Core theme 1: Large-scale development projects that lead to the environment and livelihood destruction

“Large-scale development projects, such as mining, dams, ASEAN power grid, roads and industrial plantation, currently key drivers of the ASEAN economy, have led to environmental degradation and resulted in negative impacts on culture and livelihoods of peoples and communities in the region. Such a development thrust has further exacerbated inequality and food insecurity in the region, where many, especially the poor, are suffering from rising food prices, severe hunger, rising unemployment and falling incomes, and lack of access and control over land, water, productive resources, genetic resources, as well as social protection”

Statement of the ASEAN Peoples’ Forum-Fourth ASEAN Civil Society Conference”, 20 – 22 February 2009, Bangkok, Thailand

Dams on the mainstream of the Mekong River and Salween River

The governments of Thailand, Cambodia and Lao are currently considering plans by Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Russian andChinese companies to build eleven dams on the Mekong River’s mainstream. The Mekong River is the world’s most productive inland freshwater fishery. Wild fish and other aquatic resources harvested from the Mekong are worth up to US$9.4 billion per year taking into account secondary industries. The fisheries contribute significantly to the region’s economy and secure the incomes and livelihoods of millions of local fishers throughout the region, which include many of the region’s poorest people. Building mainstream dams would block the migratory fisheries that constitute around seventy percent of the total commercial catch, consequently jeopardizing regional food security, nutrition and health and seriously setting back other initiatives aimed at alleviating poverty and meeting development targets, such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). There is clear scientific and expert consensus that there are no technologies that can mitigate the impacts of mainstream dams on fisheries.

The Thai, Burmese and Chinese governments are planning five mega dam projects on the Salween River. All of the proposed dams are located in active conflict areas in Burma. Constructing the dams will pave the way for myriad human rights violations, including forced relocation, forced labor, looting, killing, torture and rape, which, in turn, will exacerbate refugee problems in Thailand and China. The total area that will be submerged by the dams’ reservoirs is at least two thousand square kilometers. As a result, over 70,000 people, including indigenous people, will be displaced. The dams also threaten the Salween River basin’s ecosystem, which is home to at least 235 wildlife species and 170 fish species and will severely affect the millions of people who rely on the ecosystem for their livelihood. Two of the Salween Dams, Hatgyi and Tasang, have already reached the “preparation for construction” stage. If built, these destructive Salween dams will be a component of the ASEAN Power Grid.

Mainstream dams on the Mekong and Salween Rivers are inconsistent with the ASEAN charter, including protection of environment, sustainability  of natural resources, and preservation of culture (ASEAN Charter, Article 1, para 9). They are also inconsistent with ASEAN’s commitment to sustainable development and attaining the MDGs, especially MDG1 on eradicating extreme hunger and poverty and MDG7 to ensure environmental sustainability. People rely on natural resources for their livelihood and well-being.

Thailand is slated to be the biggest buyer of electricity produced by the proposed Mekong and Salween River dams, despite the fact that Thailand’s Power Development Plan (PDP) has been repeatedly denounced for its consistent over-estimates of future electricity demand and its failure to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies to their full potentials.

The Mekong and Salween mainstream dams, and other large hydropower projects such as the dams planned for the Irrawaddy River in Burma, epitomize an out-dated and unsustainable mode of development that violates affected people’s rights and fails to ensure equitable and sustainable development. Yet, with the revised energy policies in place, ASEAN could leapfrog the 1950s-era of big dams and start growing sustainable, modern economies without losing the benefits that healthy rivers bring.

DISCUSSION POINTS with ASEAN:

  • How can ASEAN review and revise the ASEAN Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (APAEC) 2010-2015 to place greater emphasis on policies that promote energy efficiency, demand side management and renewable energy technologies?
  • How can ASEAN promote that member states adopt Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) practices that require that demand-side options be considered on a level playing field with supply-side options, and that the framework for decisions be based on societal least-cost planning with the full participation of the public.
  • How can ASEAN promote and implement people-oriented water resource management, based on international best practice including the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams? How can ASEAN institute mechanisms for sharing transboundary rivers that protect natural wealth and food security, and ensure regional peace and prosperity? 


Extractives Industries Sectors (oil, gas and mining)

An export-oriented and ever more relaxed extractive industry (EI) is resulting in severe environmental and social costs and unsustainable development around the world and in Southeast Asia. Despite this, ASEAN seeks to encourage continued EI activities often backed by foreign investors in the name of economic growth and meeting the rising energy demand of the region.

Backed by changing regulatory environments, various lending instruments and often shady deals between the host governments and financiers, the scale of investments in extractive industry in ASEAN countries is on the rise. In Mekong, large-scale mining exploration didn’t really start seriously until the late 1980s. A long and costly process of resource exploitation has been witnessed that involved multinational companies investing in Monya copper (1998, Burma); Sepon gold and copper (2002, Laos), Phu Bia and Bong Mieu gold (205, Laos and Vietnam), and Lao Cai iron ore (2006, Vietnam).[i] Cross-border investment, such as the Thai-Malaysia gas pipeline, has also caused ongoing severe problem and protest in Thailand.

In recent years, China has been arguably the most active investor in Laos and Cambodia,[ii] investing in and securing exploration concessions in scores of mining activities. In addition, the extractive investment and explorations in the region are largely driven by key global companies such as BHP Biliton, Newmont, Alcoa and Chalco; junior mining companies from Australia, Canada and the US including Oxiana, Asian Mineral Resources; and regional and regional players such as Padaeng (Thailand), Delcom (Malay) and Zijin Mining (China).1

Extractive industries leave heavy environmental and social footprints, often adversely affecting surrounding land, air and water and disrupting the livelihoods and community life of people who live nearby. They are generally characterized by large-scale projects that involve not only local extractive processes but investment in large infrastructure, such as roads, pipelines and ports to transport raw materials and refineries to process them. To boot, extractive industries are the single largest source of green house gas emissions, as oil and gas are consumed for power generation, transportation and so on. The benefits of extractive industries tend to be unevenly shared, with a few powerful interests profiting greatly, while most of the local population gains little. The social and environmental costs are borne disproportionately by women, indigenous peoples and others in the communities living near extractive industry projects.

These heavy costs are particularly evident in the case of Tangguh LNG Project, an ADB and private sector financed extraction in Berau and Bintuni bay areas of Papua, Indonesia that catalyzed military violence to Papua villagers who are critical of the project. In Burma, the controversial South Korean and Indian company-financed Shwe Natural Gas Project in Arakan State and the exploration of onshore oil and natural gas blocks in Arakan state by Chinese and other foreign companies have perpetuated more livelihood losses, forced relocation and labor and various forms of violence to communities.[iii]

ASEAN countries should learn from the mistakes of resource rich nations that their unsustainable, ill-conceived and export-oriented extractive industry practices that have left them with a “resource curse” or the “Dutch disease” where they have hardly achieved long-term economic gains. Instead, they sustained worse development outcomes such as social conflict and environmental degradation than countries with fewer natural resources. The competitiveness of their other economic sectors declined while their extractive industry becomes volatile due to exposure to volatile global commodity market. Mismanagement, lack of transparency and massive corruption in the governance of extractive industry perpetuate this resource curse.

DISCUSSION POINTS with ASEAN:

How can ASEAN develop an ASEAN Extractive Industry Framework that guides member countries’ governance of their coal, gas, and mineral resources?

[i] Based on reports consolidated in the Mekong Community Networking Workshop on Extractive Industries, Agri-business and Hydropower in Chiang Mai, 27-28 September, 2007.

[ii] See Global Witness (2009). Country For Sale: How Cambodia’s Elite has Captured the Country’s Extractive Industries. Global Witness Publishing Inc: Washington DC

[iii] Arakan Oil Watch. July 2009. Human Impacts of Energy Development in Burma: Realities and risks from major foreign-invested oil and gas projects in western Burma’s Arakan State 

Core theme 2: Climate Change

"The climate crisis further highlights the vulnerability of the region, where the impacts of climate change have become unmistakable and pervasive, yet there is still no plan to reverse the development path especially for industrial and energy development, and environmental standards or common values at the national and regional levels are still lacking to address this urgent and serious situation.”

Statement of the ASEAN Peoples’ Forum-Fourth ASEAN Civil Society Conference”, 20 – 22 February 2009, Bangkok, Thailand

A wealthy minority of the world’s countries and corporations are the principal cause of climate change, yet its adverse effects fall first and foremost on the impoverished and marginalized majority of people. Actions to address climate change and its consequences must be effective, equitable and just. The present state of the UNFCCC negotiations is disappointing. The reduction targets tabled by the Annex 1 countries are far too low.

Civil society has urged ASEAN to strongly negotiate based on the principles of respective capabilities of developing countries, the historic responsibilities of Annex 1 countries, and in accordance with the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol in stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations.

A fundamental point to ensure that justice is realized in the efforts to combat climate change is the recognition of ecological debt, which includes climate debt, owed by the northern governments, private corporations and all elites to the peoples of the South and all exploited and marginalized communities. At the same time reparations and restitution must be seen as requirements for ecological and climate justice.

Key Concerns

Northern governments must commit to drastic, deeper, unconditional cuts in carbon emissions through domestic measures with the goal of achieving 350 ppm by 2020 and keeping temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees centigrade. At the same time ASEAN countries should contribute to global efforts to reduce carbon emissions and implement programs and measures with clear national targets such as promotion of renewable energy sources, pursuing demand-side management, shifting to low carbon technologies and adoption of domestically sustainable and equitable development models that are friendly to people and the planet.

We resist the false solutions being offered by corporations and institutions that are seeking to make profit from solving the climate crisis. We are aware that the Clean Development Mechanism encourages ASEAN countries to engage in development projects that are environmentally destructive, such as monoculture plantations of eucalyptus, soya and palm oil. We oppose carbon trading and offsets as well as other environmentally counter-productive techno-fixes, such as carbon capture and storage, agrofuels, nuclear power, ‘clean coal’ technology, and large-scale hydropower dams. We believe that new technologies must complement existing practices of local people.

The forest ecosystems in ASEAN countries are also becoming more fragile and contested than ever. They are now treated primarily in terms of their role in carbon capture while marginalizing their value to local livelihood, biodiversity and indigenous people. Trading forests for carbon through reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) is now being used in international carbon trading schemes by Annex 1 countries, using the World Bank, UN, and their bilateral agencies.

However, the assumptions behind REDD are flawed and their governance framework is highly undemocratic.  It is flawed because it relies on markets to offset carbon emissions.   We cannot rely on the ‘corporate takeover’ of climate change mitigation as it advances the same poorly regulated, highly complex and opaque trading that caused the economic crisis. Allowing corporations in the industrialized countries to purchase offsets, especially potentially low cost forest offsets, which they can then count towards their own GHG pollution cap, is inherently unjust and ineffective. It shifts the responsibility for reducing GHG’s from the north (who are historically responsible for global warming) to the south, and may allow industry in the north to postpone making the hard decisions and costly investments needed to reduce the GHG emissions of their industries.   Misleading policies in solving climate change can make the agriculture sector the ‘victim’ rather than part of the solution, as in the case of large-scale production of energy crops. This may lead to new conflicts over natural resources, whilst not solving the climate change problem. The production of biofuels, innovations like geo-engineering,

nanotechnology and synthetic biology can have long-term environmental and socio-economic consequences.   Risks are high that REDD only promotes a business-as-usual approach and is being used by polluting countries as their way out from their accountability to reduce gas emissions through:  

  1. Questionable governance, unclear interpretation of design and implementation framework;
  2. Failure to address long-standing land tenure insecurities;
  3. Failure to comply with international obligations in relation to human rights, including the indigenous peoples’ rights enshrined in the United Nations;
  4. Lack of transparency, broad and meaningful consultations; and lack of assessment of forest governance and alignment with relevant national policies;
  5. Absence of concern about equity issues (who own carbon, who benefits and who gets marginalized from carbon trading); and
  6. Unclear plans to address deforestation and degradation caused by mining and industrial logging concessions.   Forests that are already protected by communities must not be included under REDD process. In cases where there is conflict between the state and people on the rights over these resources, those problem need to be solved first, before moving forward to discuss REDD.


On Agriculture

  • How can ASEAN develop agriculture sector climate change mitigation strategies that ensure the full recognition and respect for community rights and farmer rights, including the right to access critical resources and the right to land How can these strategies be developed with the wide participation of small scale farmers?


On REDD

  • How can ASEAN governments foster a democratic and inclusive decision-making process on the REDD proposal?


On Climate Change and Role of IFIs

  • How can ASEAN ensure democratic management of all international funding mechanisms for climate change mitigation, with strong participation from civil society organizations?
  • How can ASEAN ensure that IFIs including the World Bank Group, Asian Development Bank and all other multilateral development and bilateral banks promote global transition to lower-carbon energy production, based on the principles of a peaceful and liveable society (including no nuclear power), by reducing their fossil fuel lending and increasing financing for renewable energy and energy efficiency?
  • How can ASEAN ensure that Climate Investment Funds, Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and related climate funding facilities be governed transparently and consistently with United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) principles and decisions?


On Governance Mechanism

  • What steps could ASEAN take to support the establishment of mechanisms that local people can participate in to see a transition towards sustainable agriculture and organic agriculture, which is healthier and environmentally friendly, using less energy and that also keeps carbon in the soil (for example the formation of an independent Sustainable Agriculture Institute)?
  • How can ASEAN promote the recovery of local seed varieties as an adaptation solution?
  • How can ASEAN ensure that multinational companies do not monopolize diversity and varieties of plants and animals, thus facilitating climate change adaptation of small scale farmers both in developing countries and the least developed countries?

Core theme 3: Biodiversity

“Large-scale development projects, such as mining, dams, ASEAN power grid, roads and industrial plantation, currently key drivers of the ASEAN economy, have led to environmental degradation and resulted in negative impacts on culture and livelihoods of peoples and communities in the region. Such a development thrust has further exacerbated inequality and food insecurity in the region, where many, especially the poor, are suffering from rising food prices, severe hunger, rising unemployment and falling incomes, and lack of access and control over land, water, productive resources, genetic resources, as well as social protection”

Statement of the ASEAN Peoples’ Forum-Fourth ASEAN Civil Society Conference”, 20 – 22 February 2009, Bangkok, Thailand

Benefit sharing from the use of biodiversity

Under the ASEAN framework, trade has been the most dominant component, reflected through the ASEAN Free Trade agreement, and agreements between ASEAN and other regions including ASEAN-USA, Europe, China, Australia-New Zealand, Japan and Korea.

ASEAN countries are blessed with a rich and unique biodiversity and agro-diversity, and which is commonly most abundant in areas inhabited by the regions large number of distinct ethnic groups. Yet, agreements on trade and investment between ASEAN and industrial countries have been framed by the legal systems and policies of the industrial countries. For example, ASEAN has been pushed to accept the Plant Variety Protection Act and to support the Budapest Treaty (on patenting). Furthermore, whilst most of the research on ASEAN’s animal and plant genetics and varieties have been undertaken by public research institutes, it is large international companies that are seeking ownership entitlements.

It remains unclear how indigenous peoples and local communities can benefit from the way biodiversity is currently and will be used by the pharmaceutical, agricultural biotechnology, horticultural, microbial, and bioinformatics industries. These indigenous groups must have a genuine role side by side with their nation-states in granting prior informed consent on the way these resources are utilized and patented by local and foreign institutions and companies. Given the adoption of the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Access and Benefit-Sharing by some, but not all ASEAN member-states, it remains difficult for nation-states to realize the advantages of moving collectively as a region on this issue. Given that the United Nations has already approved the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Convention on Biological Diversity is set to conclude negotiations of the International Regime on Access and Benefit-Sharing and hopefully adopt the same in Nagoya, Japan in October 2010, it remains unclear to what extent indigenous people can play a role in decisions that are made. ASEAN must ensure that indigenous people are not excluded from these processes, and that their ideas and aspirations are fully incorporated in final outcomes of negotiations.

DISCUSSION POINTS with ASEAN:

  • How can ASEAN fully include indigenous peoples, local communities and civil society organizations in discussions relating to the use of biodiversity and genetic patenting, and incorporate the principles of prior informed consent in agreements involving use of biodiversity in the region, and in the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Access and Benefit-Sharing?

GMOs, Biosafety and New Technologies

The ASEAN has developed risk assessment methodologies to guide the use of modern biotechnology in the region, but has done little to ensure the participation of civil society groups, indigenous peoples and local communities in these processes. Given the potential hazards of these technologies on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in these communities, ASEAN should ensure these groups can participate in decisions to approve the use of any new biotechnology. Many civil society groups from within ASEAN have declared their serious concern and opposition to the use of GMOs and hybrid seeds.

DISCUSSION POINTS with ASEAN:

  • How can ASEAN enable the participation and involvement of civil society groups, indigenous peoples and local communities in developing guidelines on risk assessment for modern biotechnologies including the decision on whether to release these technologies into the environment?

Sustainable Agriculture and Food Sovereignty

The paradigm of industry-led development, where the rural sector is squeezed to provide the resources necessary to support industrialisation and urbanization, must be challenged by all ASEAN countries. This critique must be connected with efforts to promote agricultural strategies aimed at achieving food security, food sovereignty and sustainable farming. A change from monoculture agriculture to sustainable agricultural systems based on diversity is necessary.

DISCUSSION POINTS

  • How can ASEAN undertake full and transparent reviews on ASEAN free trade and other bilateral agreements (including existing agreements) to assess the extent to which they negatively impact upon genetic resources and food security of local communities and at national and regional scales.
  • Recognizing that responsible agricultural practices are necessary pre-requisites to environmental sustainability, founded on the broader framework of food sovereignty, how can ASEAN develop a common agricultural policy and action plan that improves access and control of small-scale farmers and fisher folk to land, water and other natural resources, and increase their productivity and incomes through sustainable livelihoods and organic agriculture?
  • How can ASEAN establish a common agricultural development fund that will help carry out the agricultural policy and action plan?

OVERARCHING DISCUSSION POINT

In response to the urgent, multi-fold environmental crisis that now impacts the lives of millions of ASEAN people,

how can ASEAN instigate a process that would launch a fourth Strategic Pillar on Environment and prepare a blueprint that commits the member states to place international best practices on environmental sustainability at the center of decision-making? In developing this new Strategic Pillar on Environment, how can ASEAN ensure the full participation of ASEAN peoples? 

This new ASEAN Strategic Pillar on Environment should be founded on internationally accepted standards and best practices that promote ecological sustainability, economic, social, and cultural rights.

The new ASEAN Strategic Pillar on Environment should address the issue of large-scale development projects that threaten food security and people’s livelihood and well-being. Projects that are sustainable should be revised or, if necessary, cancelled, to ensure that biodiversity, ecosystems and people’s livelihoods re protected.

In implementing the new ASEAN Strategic Pillar on Environmental, ASEAN member states should review and revise where necessary economic activities, to ensure that they comply with the ASEAN Charter, respect human rights, equitably help raise income levels, ensure justice for labor forces, and do not destroy natural resources and the environment. The new ASEAN Strategic Pillar on Environment should also set up a blueprint and implementation mechanism for the sustainable use and protection of international rivers, marine natural resources, and forests.

The 'precautionary principle' of the Agenda 21 of the Rio Summit as well as the 'respect-protect-remedy' principle of the UN

Human Rights Council should be a center-piece of the new Strategic Pillar on Environment.

Addressing the impacts of climate change should be integral to the new Strategic Pillar on Environment that ensures a fair climate regime and climate-friendly development efforts that are appropriate to the level of development of the ASEAN member-states and protective of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. 

The Strategic Pillar on Environment should compel large corporations, including transnational corporations, to follow international human rights and environmental standards and conventions, and ensure that they accountable for violations of applicable national laws and ASEAN principles.

Supporting Organizations 

  • Thai NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD)
  • Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA)/Foundation for Ecological Recovery
  • Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute (CUSRI)
  • Thai working group on climate change Justice
  • Small Scale farmer Association of Thailand
  • People’s Empowerment Foundation
  • Sustainable Agriculture Foundation
  • Thai Volunteer Service
  • Alternative Agriculture Network Thailand
  • Ecological Awareness Building (EAB)
  • Palang Thai
  • BIOTHAI
  • Action Group on Erosion Technology and Concentration (ETC Group)
  • Living River Siam (SEARIN)
  • Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM)
  • Institute for Essential Reform (IESR)
  • Third World Network (TWN)
  • Consultancy on Development (CODE)
  • People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature)
  • Conservation and Development on Cambodia (CDCam)
  • Cambodian Centre for the Study and Development of Agriculture (CEDAC)
  • 3S Rivers Protection Network (3SPN)
  • Cultural and Environment Preservation Association (CEPA)
  • Altsean-Burma
  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia)
  • Committee for ASEAN Women (CAW)
  • Focus on the Global South
  • Southeast Asia Committee for Advocacy (SEACA)
  • Union Network International, Asia Pacific Regional Office
  • Bank Information Centre
  • International Rivers
  • Mekong Watch