ASEAN meets, region prepares for UN climate conference

ASEAN holds its summit without Myanmar and promises to push for peace, while world leaders gather in Glasgow for crucial climate change discussions

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October 30, 2021
ASEAN meets, region prepares for UN climate conference


This week the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met, notably without the presence of Myanmar’s top general, who was barred from attending. It was a big move for the often passive organisation. While some member states such as Indonesia have spoken out directly to condemn violence against civilians by the Myanmar junta since its February coup, other countries including Cambodia have granted diplomatic recognition to the military government. ASEAN has continued to call for peace and Cambodia, ahead of its assumption of the chairmanship in 2022, promised to push the junta to engage in dialogue with the opposition. 

ASEAN’s summit took place as world leaders prepared to gather in Glasgow, Scotland, for 26th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26). The conference starting 31 October is an opportunity for participating nations and organisations to work toward the next global step in confronting climate change.

Southeast Asia will be one of the most vulnerable regions represented, even as countries like Cambodia continue to embrace fossil fuels to power their growth. Asia more broadly accounts for more than 50% of global greenhouse emissions. While the key decisions determining the world’s fate are in the hands of high-emitting superpowers, the consequences will fall on smaller nations such as those in Southeast Asia that are building up their energy infrastructures and choosing the kinds of energy on which to rely. 

Some positive steps toward reducing reliance on fossil fuels have been made in Southeast Asia. ASEAN recently outlined plans for 23% of its energy to come from renewable sources by 2025, but that’s hardly enough to reduce emissions at the level called for by scientific consensus. The Asian Development Bank also has outlined plans to purchase and retire coal power plants in Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, while the region is still grappling with China’s moratorium on funding coal power plants abroad.

However, there are innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing problems already being enacted in Southeast Asia. Our lead feature story this week focuses on a tiny flying fish potentially playing a big role in ending world hunger. Written by Ashley Yeong and Anton L. Delgado, the story is highlighted by Anton’s excellent photographs and a video interview:

Researchers believe the inauspicious but iron-rich Mekong flying barb offers a possible solution to chronic undernutrition in Southeast Asia, Anton L. Delgado and Ashley Yeong report. Under the guidance of NGO WorldFish, Siem Reap farmers are diversifying their diets and fisheries by focusing on smaller, more nutritious fish instead of only relying on larger, more marketable species. 

Natural flooding in the Malaysian state of Sabah in northern Borneo has become far worse due to rampant hillside cutting by companies and the government to make way for development projects such as the Pan-Borneo Highway, Ashley Yeong reports. Local leaders, residents and scientists are calling for greater government assistance in disaster relief and flood mitigation, as well as more mindful development. 

Vietnamese healthcare workers have endured overwhelming work hours while struggling to contain a Covid-19 surge with limited support and equipment, Govi Snell reports. The Vietnamese government threatened to withdraw medical licenses for those who quit their jobs during the pandemic, as doctors continue to face extreme caseloads under difficult conditions and without an increase in wages.

Yours truly covers how Cambodian healthcare professionals employed at public hospitals often engage in ‘dual practice’ by also working in the private sector, leading to concerns about corruption and conflicts of interest. Yet some experts say dual practice can play an essential role in stabilising developing healthcare systems that typically offer low civil service salaries.

As Myanmar citizens continue to protest against the repressive military junta, the international community should leverage its influence and resources to provide greater support for local human rights work, writes Vanessa Chong of Fortify Rights. For example, the UN can expand its definition of “human rights defenders” to extend legal protections and resources to more Myanmar citizens working to support and protect human rights. 

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