Bangkok. Thailand â Human rights violations, unequal access to health care, environmental degradation and rapid migration are the ointment flies for the region’s remarkable economic growth.
The leaders of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference, the Asean Peoples’ Forum, took note and in their dialogue on September 12, they included the environment as the fourth pillar of the region of the ASEAN. Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Four ASEAN leaders from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Timor-Leste accepted the invitation to dialogue.
The Asean community currently has only three pillars: political and security, economic and socio-cultural.
Under the theme âAdvancing Peoples’ Movements for Justice, Peace, Equality, Sustainability and Democracy in Southeast Asiaâ, the forum was held from September 10 to 12, 2019 at the Congress Center from Thammasat University in Pathum Thani, Thailand.
The fourth pillar
In 2009, during Thailand’s ASEAN presidency, ASEAN civil society groups had already proposed the fourth strategic pillar on the environment.
The fourth pillar aims to focus on discussions on the challenges and solutions to the environmental ruin caused by the rapid economic growth in the Asean region. It also places best practices and sustainability at the center of decision-making.
Thai Deputy Permanent Secretary Arthayud Srisamoot of the Thai Foreign Ministry doesn’t quite agree with the idea of ââhaving a fourth pillar for the environment. He said the environment is a social pillar and relates to all pillars of ASEAN. Instead of just promoting environmental awareness, he said there should be action.
Malaysian Ambassador Dato ‘Jojie Samuel said in 2015, at the 27th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, that the idea of ââthe environmental pillar was born. If ASEAN works together on this, he said civil society groups should be assured that the environment is on the ASEAN agenda.
Samuel, however, said the role of the ASEAN secretariat needs to be expanded due to the growing number of issues facing the region. More funding was one way to achieve this, he said.
Indonesian Deputy Head of Mission to Thailand Dicky Komor acknowledged that the environment is vital.
Although Timor Leste is still only an observer at Asean, Elisa Maria da Silva, advisor and deputy head of mission, said her country was ready to tackle the issue of the environment.
Timor Leste has been besieged by problems since its independence from Indonesia in 1999. As an island country, it is rich in natural resources, but due to the absence and lack of a defined development model, Timor Leste fought both ecologically and economically. Currently, the country is in partnership with Australia in oil and natural gas projects.
The voice of the people
In a statement, Asean civil society groups and popular organizations recommend to Asean governments that the environmental pillar lead to transparency and public participation in environmental decision-making. They also suggested that all development projects require the free, prior and informed consent of communities and that best practices be used.
Due to the negative impact of dam construction on the livelihoods of people living along the Mekong River, the groups also recommended that energy policies not lead to ecological ruin.
âWe need an energy transition from destructive energy sources to renewable energy,â said Nguy Thi Kanh, founder of Green Innovation, an alternative energy company in Vietnam.
âIf we couldn’t meet him now, it’s too late. We already have solutions. We just have to adopt them, âshe added.
They also urged ASEAN to support people-centered innovations and markets. Most important, however, was the role that young people have to play in the environment pillar.
Resist global capitalism
Ben Quinones of Asian Solidarity Economy said that although governments engage with civil society, these groups are still largely ignored.
âTaking alternatives is a fundamental right. It’s creating a life of dignity, âQuinones said.
He said one of those alternatives is the social solidarity economy, which is a form of resistance to global capitalism that destroys the environment, displaces people and creates economic inequality.
At least 1,000 participants were there. For over 10 years, Southeast Asian civil society organizations have engaged ASEAN governments and played a role in addressing the challenges facing ASEAN countries, such as refugees and migration, social justice, human rights and universal health care.
The forum is held every year in the country of ASEAN which would host the ASEAN summit which would then be held in Bangkok from October 31 to November 4. / tsb
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