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Asie du Sud-Est © D.R
On 30 September and 1 October, AFD organized an online conference on the theme of "Southeast Asia’s challenges to sustainable and inclusive development". A dozen speakers shared their experience and vision on key issues for the region. The program featured matters ranging from the energy transition, biodiversity protection and access to environmental and climate justice, to regional cooperation.

The seven Southeast Asian countries in which AFD operates are distinguished by their very different levels of development. Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar show marked linguistic, religious, political, economic and geographical contrasts. Nevertheless, common dynamics are emerging, particularly with regard to the high vulnerability of these territories to climate change, the loss of biodiversity and the increase in inequalities. 

These challenges have been reinforced by the Covid-19 pandemic, as Joseph Zveglich, Chief Economist of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), pointed out at the start of the conference. According to the forecasts of the Asian Development Outlook published by the ADB, South-East Asia will be the Asian region most affected economically by the crisis in 2022, with a drop of 8.6 points in its GDP compared to the pre-Covid situation - as opposed to 2.5 points for the Asian region in general. 

Faced with all these challenges, Jean-Pierre Marcelli, AFD's Director of Operations, stressed the importance of adopting a global approach: "we need to adopt a nexus approach, that is, act in the economic, social and environmental spheres at the same time to combat climate change and promote sustainable development, while at the same time strengthening the resilience of populations.”

An adapted response from France

In his introductory remarks, Philippe Lacoste, Director of Sustainable Development at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, recalled France's commitment to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement worldwide. "With the new development law adopted in August 2021, France is giving itself the means to contribute more effectively to the fight against inequalities and the protection of common goods."

See the first part of the conference 

AFD's strategy in Southeast Asia, published in November 2020, specifically addresses some of the major issues identified in Southeast Asia. Three main priorities have been identified: the transition to low-carbon trajectories and territorial resilience, the preservation and sustainable management of the terrestrial and maritime environment, and the fight against social imbalances and inequalities.

The importance of cooperation between development actors

The aim of the conference was also to examine how to improve the impact of development actions in the region, "the economic and strategic center of the planet," according to Igor Driesmans, EU Ambassador to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The watchword: strengthen cooperation. "It is essential to ensure that our objectives are concerted, and at least complementary, if we are to be effective," insisted Armida S. Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and UN Under-Secretary-General. 

A vision shared by H.E. Robert Mateus Michael Tene, Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN, who stressed the importance of "transparency and dialogue to achieve this goal," and H.E. Igor Driesmans.

Minh-di Tang, Head of the South-East Asia Division at the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, welcomed "the many synergies between ASEAN's Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, the EU's strategy and France's strategy" and the variety of cooperation opportunities that are opening up with France's recently acquired status as an ASEAN development partner

Removing barriers to investment 

The private sector has a central role to play in the region's energy transition. "Cooperation between the public and private sectors is needed to support countries in their ambitions and to help them achieve their nationally determined contributions (NDCs, at the heart of the Paris Agreement). For this to happen, we need a coherent roadmap on energy transition," explained Beni Suryadi, Director of Energy, Fossil Fuels, Alternative Energy and Storage at the ASEAN Energy Centre.

A stable legislative framework is needed: "We need to understand local contexts to overcome these barriers, and support the implementation of regulations on a case-by-case basis," added Sirpa Jarvenpaa, Director of the Energy Transition Partnership. 

Hence the interest of an approach supported by AFD, as described by Raphaël de Guerre, Regional Director of Proparco in North and South-East Asia: "AFD can provide support to a sector upstream, and then Proparco intervenes to support the private sector in its investment.” 

Preserving biodiversity: a variety of approaches

Countries need to take a regional approach to several environmental issues that traverse borders, such as the biodiversity surrounding the Mekong River, which flows through four Southeast Asian countries. "There are a variety of approaches that can be put in place to preserve the Mekong, but it requires an inclusive public dialogue," said Carl Middleton, Director of the Center for Social Development Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.

Dr. Thim Ly, Basin Planner of the Mekong River Commission, presented the MRC's strategic priorities, designed in a crosscutting approach: protecting the environment, ensuring social welfare and economic development, strengthening institutional cooperation and building resilience, especially against extreme floods and droughts. 

Of course, nature itself will have a word or two to say. "The Mekong is a self-regulating river,” said Jake Brunner, head of the Indo-Burma section at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “Its floods are not violent or unpredictable, and millions of people depend on it for agriculture. It is futile to try to control nature: we must let it regulate itself!”

Environmental and climate justice on all fronts 

Discussants also addressed the thorny topic of environmental justice, which starts by “strengthening regulation, making laws, putting in place a legislative framework," according to the regional coordinator for environmental law and governance within the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Georgina Lloyd. 

But “the effectiveness of the law is just as important as its creation, said Jean-Philippe Rivaud, Deputy Attorney General of the Paris Court of Appeal. “And for that, it is necessary to train judges and magistrates, to set up a police force to enforce the laws, and to strengthen international cooperation to be able to carry out investigations effectively.”  

See here the second part of the conference in English

A view shared by Christina Pak, ADB principal counsel: "Environmental justice is complex and requires technical knowledge and an understanding of the scientific and political basis. This is why it needs to be included in the curriculum of judicial schools.”