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The ASEAN Approach to Regional Environtmental Management by Apichai Sunchindah, Kuala Lumpur
date_range21 October, 1998

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand, with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration by the five original Member Countries namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Brunei Darussalam joined the Association on 8 January 1984. Vietnam became the seventh member of ASEAN on 28 July 1995. Laos and Myanmar was admitted into ASEAN on 23 July 1997. The Bangkok Declaration united the ASEAN Member Countries in a joint effort to promote economic cooperation and the welfare of the people in the region. The Declaration sets out guidelines for ASEAN’s activities and defined the aims of the organization. The ASEAN nations came together with three main objectives in mind: to promote the economic, social and cultural development of the region through cooperative programmes; to safeguard the political and economic stability of the region against big power rivalry; and to serve as a forum for the resolution of intra-regional differences. ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE FOR ASEAN COOPERATION ON THE ENVIRONMENT The organizational structure for ASEAN cooperation in the field of the environment consists of the ASEAN Senior Officials on the Environment (ASOEN), and its subsidiary bodies, the Meeting of the ASEAN Environment Ministers and the ASEAN Secretariat. 1. ASEAN Senior Officials on the Environment (ASOEN) ASEAN cooperation on the environment started in 1978 with the establishment of the ASEAN Expert Group on the Environment (AEGE) under the ASEAN Committee on Science and Technology (COST). AEGE was elevated in 1989 to become the ASEAN Senior Officials on the Environment (ASOEN). ASOEN meets once a year to consider the reports of its Working Groups, which also meet annually, and provide operational policy guidance on the various environmental programmes being pursued. To date, ASOEN has met 9 times with the latest meeting held in Singapore on 23-25 September 1998 and the next meeting scheduled for July 1999 in Thailand. As a matter of procedure, the reports of the ASOEN meetings are adopted by the ASEAN Standing Committee which in turn reports to the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) comprising of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers. The cooperative programs and projects of ASOEN are guided by the ASEAN Strategic Plan of Action on the Environment and until recently, were carried out through the following Working Groups : ASEAN Seas and Marine Environment Environmental Economics Nature Conservation Environmental Management Transboudary Pollution Environmental Information, Public Awareness and Education In addition to the above-mentioned Working Groups, a Haze Technical Task Force was also set up in 1995 to operationalise and implement the measures recommended in the ASEAN Cooperation Plan on Transboundary Pollution relating to atmospheric pollution. The Haze Technical Task Force is chaired by Indonesia and originally comprised of concerned senior officials from Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. The Task Force has met ten times and at the third meeting, all remaining ASEAN Member Countries and the ASEAN Secretariat were invited to attend. At the most recent ASOEN meeting, a decision was made to restructure and streamline the ASEAN working groups to be more responsive to emerging regional and international environmental issues. As a result, only three working groups were maintained and these are the working groups on Nature Conservation and Biodiversity chaired by the Philippines, Coastal and Marine Environment chaired by Thailand and Multilateral Environmental Agreements chaired by Malaysia. The meeting also agreed to the issues and programs/activities that are to be addressed by the new working groups and these are outlined in Annex 1. The Haze Technical Task Force was retained in view of the need to continually address the critical environmental issue of haze arising from land and forest fires in the region. 2. Meeting of the ASEAN Environment Ministers To promote ASEAN cooperation and ensure that the decisions of the Heads of Government relating to environment are carried out, the ASEAN Ministers for the Environment have met regularly at least once every 3 years since 1981. So far, the ASEAN Environment Ministers have met seven times. The most recent ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on the Environment (AMME) was held on 16-18 September 1997 in Jakarta while the next AMME is scheduled to be held in Malaysia in the year 2000. In between the normal 3-year intervals for the formal AMME, informal meetings of the ASEAN Environment Ministers have been held almost every year since 1994. The next informal AMME is expected to be held in Vietnam on 17-18 November 1998. In addition, the first ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Haze (AMMH) was convened in Singapore on 22-23 December 1997 to address the problem of smoke haze in the region caused by land and forest fires. The AMMH has met five times with the most recent meeting held on 30 July 1998 in Kuala Lumpur. 3. The ASEAN Secretariat Issues pertaining to environment cooperation in ASEAN fall under the purview of the Environment Unit of the Functional Cooperation Bureau. The ASEAN Secretariat normally services the afore-mentioned meetings as resource person and rapporteur as well as assists the above- stated bodies by providing substantive inputs in the planning, coordination, implementation and monitoring of the various cooperative projects on environment undertaken by them. The current organizational structure for ASEAN cooperation in the field of the environment and tranboundary haze are shown in Figures 1 and 2, respectively. RECENT ASEAN ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND INITIATIVES IN THE FIELD OF ENVIRONMENT 1. Regional Haze Action Plan and ADB Initiative A major outcome of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Haze held in Singapore in December 1997 was the adoption of the Regional Haze Action Plan (RHAP) which sets out concrete and cooperative programs to address the smoke haze problem arising from land and forest fire. The Action Plan calls for specific measures to : prevent land and forest fires through better management policies and enforcement, and intensified public education programmes; establish operational mechanisms to monitor land and forest fires, and ; strengthen regional land and forest fire-fighting capability. In this connection, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approached the ASEAN Secretariat late last year to fund a Regional Technical Assistance (RETA) project, entitled Strengthening ASEAN’s Capacity to Prevent and Mitigate Transboundary Atmospheric Pollution. The US$1 million grant proposal from ADB was subsequently endorsed by the Haze Technical Task Force and the ASEAN Environment Ministers and aims to strengthen the capacity of ASEAN to operationalize and monitor the RHAP in order to prevent and mitigate transboundary smoke and haze pollution. A project management unit, staffed with a team of experts, has been established at the ASEAN Secretariat to coordinate and implement the required tasks and activities of the RETA. Since the commencement of the RETA in April 1998, the project has assisted ASEAN members countries in developing the Detailed Implementation Plans (DIPs) of their respective National Haze Action Plans as well as the DIPs for the two Sub-Regional Fire-fighting Arrangements (SRFAs) for Borneo and Sumatra which have been established. The RETA has also produced a DIP for the Regional Haze Action Plan and played an instrumental role in developing partnership with and mobilizing funding and technical assistance from several funding sources in support of the operationalization of the RHAP. In this regard, as of October 1998, the ADB, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Australian Government and the US Government have made financial contributions while several other organizations have indicated interest and are in the process of considering providing support to the RHAP. 2. The First ASEAN State of the Environment Report (SoER) The First ASEAN State of the Environment Report (SoER) was published in 1997. The report was prepared under the auspices of the ASEAN Secretariat with funding support from UNEP. All ten chapters of the first SoER contain extensive discussion on the nature and intensity of the major environmental concerns and pressures faced by ASEAN today. The report covers a wide range of topics pertaining to natural resources management and environment protection in the ASEAN region as well as ASEAN’s initiatives and future challenges in its pursuit of sustainable development. It also stands as a record of what ASEAN nations have achieved so far in protecting the environment. It constitutes what is hoped to be the first in a series of periodic reports on the state of the environment in ASEAN. The First SoER was inaugurally launched during the 7th AMME Meeting held in Jakarta in September 1997. Efforts are now underway to prepare the Second SoER which is scheduled to be published in the year 2000. 3. ASEAN-UNDP/ASP5 Regional Training Seminars on Trade and Environment In response to the decision of the 7th ASOEN Meeting in 1996 to have more training-related activities on the issues pertaining to trade and environment, the ASEAN Secretariat, in consultation with ASOEN and its relevant working groups and with funding support from UNDP/ASP-5 Sub-programme on Trade and Environment, have conducted four regional training seminars as follows: ISO 14000, Ecolabelling and Life-Cycle Analysis in Singapore on 12-13 August 1997. The seminar was co-hosted by the Ministry of the Environment, Singapore and supported by the ASEAN Working Group on Environmental Management. The Development of a Legally Binding Instrument for the Application of the Prior-Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure on Chemicals and Pesticides in Bangkok, Thailand on 18-19 August 1997. The Pollution Control Department of Thailand was the co-host for this activity. Polluter Pays Principle (PPP) in Manila, Philippines on 21-22 August 1997. The seminar was co-hosted by the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of the Philippines. Toxic and Hazardous Wastes Management in Jakarta on 26-27 August 1997. The State Ministry of Environment of Indonesia was the co-host for this seminar. The training seminars were attended by key government officials from the environmental or related agencies as well as representatives from the private sector of ASEAN Member Countries. The seminars were expected to deepen the knowledge of the participants on the specific issues pertaining to trade and environment identified above and enable ASEAN Member Countries to more effectively address such issues in the future. The proceedings of the seminars will be published in October 1998 4. ASOEN Flagship Projects ASEAN Environment Year (AEY) 2000 1995 was designated as the first ASEAN Environment Year (AEY). Numerous activities and programmes were undertaken by member countries during AEY1995. As a result of its success, a concept proposal for future AEYs was submitted and consequently endorsed by the ASOEN the AMME and the ASC to be a flagship project of ASOEN. The ASEAN Environment Year (AEY) 2000 will comprise of activities that will highlight ASEAN’s environmental challenges and opportunities revolving around the theme “Our Heritage, Our Future”. The theme reflects ASEAN’s commitment to comply with the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, particularly the implementation of Agenda 21. It also aims to inculcate a sense of ownership of the environment among the population of ASEAN countries and emphasise that their future well being lies in their hands. ASEAN Environment Awards ASOEN, AMME and ASC have endorsed the ASEAN Environment Award as an ASOEN flagship project. The objective of the ASEAN Environment Awards is to give recognition to ASEAN individuals and organizations for their sustained and inspiring efforts and outstanding contributions to the protection and betterment of the environment, either nationally and/or regionally. The awards will be given to seven recipients under the individual and organization categories. ASEAN Regional Center for Biodiversity Conservation (ARCBC) ASOEN, AMME, AMM and ASC have all noted with satisfaction the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Center for Biodiversity Conservation (ARCBC) as an ASOEN flagship project funded with a 8.5 million ECU grant from the European Union. The ARCBC aims to develop a network of institutional links among ASEAN Member Countries and between the ASEAN and the European Union partner organizations to promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of the region’s natural resources through improved conservation and coordination among the concerned institutions. The main center of the ARCBC will be based in Los Banos, the Philippines with linkups to the National Biodiversity Reference Units in each of the participating countries. 5. ASEAN Harmonized Environmental Quality Standards and Long-Term Environmental Goals In April 1994, the 6th AMME adopted the ASEAN Harmonized Environmental Quality Standards for Ambient Air and River Water Qualities. The 7th AMME, held in September 1997, endorsed the Framework to Achieve Long-Term Environmental Goals for Ambient Air and River Water Quality for ASEAN Countries. The Framework outlines ASEAN’s initiatives to reach the aforementioned environmental standards by the year 2010 which included identification of sources of pollution, formulation of strategies, and development and implementation of comprehensive programs to control air and water pollution The above-mentioned environmental goals for ambient air and river water qualities are shown in Annexes 2 and 3.

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