Chulalongkorn University was chosen as the venue for the recent Bangkok Forum 2018 to position Thailand, the next Asean chair, as a knowledge hub in Asia that contributes to the production of holistic knowledge on sustainable development. Chheang Vannarith writes this is urgently needed to transform the region’s seemingly non-people friendly development model.
Development is not only about economic growth – mainly measured in the form of GDP – but increasingly also the need to enhance social justice, social welfare, and environmental protection. Now it is a paradigm shift in development strategy, from a traditional linear economy to a circular economy and sustainable development.
Circular economy refers to an economic system where products and services are traded in closed cycles, which are regenerative by design in order to retain value as much possible of the products, parts and materials. Some refer to it as the implementation of 3Rs including reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Sustainable development is defined by the United Nations as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
Asian countries have experienced remarkable economic development over the past five decades. Hundreds of millions of people have managed to escape from poverty. The living standard has been improved significantly. However, the quality of life, measured in terms of happiness and social values, is in decline. Social fabric and community spirit have been damaged. Environmental degradation such as plastic pollution, water pollution and air pollution is on the rise.
Dr Noeleen Heyzer, UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board Member on Mediation, called upon Asian countries, at the Bangkok Forum 2018 held at Chulalongkorn University, to abandon the development mindset of “growth first, cleaning later”. She added, more focus on the quality of growth is required and Asean should lead the process of developing a development model for inclusive and sustainable growth.
The Bangkok Forum from October 24 to 25 was convened under the theme “Integrating Knowledge for Social Sustainability”. At the global level, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) was adopted in 2015 with the aim to “leave no one behind”. As developing countries in Asia are thriving to achieve the seventeen goals of the UNSDGs, developing innovative policy and international partnerships is required.
Asean, as a regional organization, plays a critical role in realizing the SDGs.
Thailand, which will chair Asean next year, is going to focus on sustainable development. The Asean study center on sustainability will be established to further promote knowledge sharing within the region and beyond.
Chulalongkorn University was chosen as the venue for Bangkok Forum 2018 to position Thailand, as Asean chair, to be the knowledge hub in Asia that contributes to the production of holistic knowledge on sustainable development.
Policy makers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and civil society leaders who attended the Forum shared similar views that it was urgent and imperative to transform the existing development model to become more environmentally friendly, people-oriented and people-centered.
Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi, former Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) said that we needed to comprehend and approach the development model from a multi-dimensional perspective such as the consideration of economic efficiency together with social security and environmental sustainability. He suggested connecting trade governance with sustainable development.
In Asia, inequality is on the rise. The study by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) finds that unequal access to basic opportunities has contributed to widening inequalities of outcomes, especially in income and wealth, which in turn led to widening inequalities in access to health care, education, technology, and protection from natural disasters and environmental hazards.
Inequality, inadequate governance, and environmental degradation are the three main issues facing the Asia Pacific region, Dr Hongjoo Hahm, Officer-in-Charge of ESCAP, told the forum. Regional countries and international development partners need to work closer together to address these interconnected issues.
“Creating social sustainability requires respecting and promoting the many dimensions of human values-including equity, diversity, the quality of both physical and spiritual life, access to democracy and governance institutions, and a culture of respect, dialogue and peace”, stated the Bangkok Forum.
Professor Dr Nay Htlun, Founder and Honorary Patron of Green Economy Green Growth, opines that, “sustainability, resiliency, sufficiency are interconnected and form a continuum that fosters inclusivity and equity”. He added that multi-level governance, institutional capacity, policy instruments, technological innovation, and changes in human behavior and lifestyles are the five key pathways to realise sustainable development goals.
To achieve sustainable development, we need to further connect and integrate knowledge, harness new technologies, build multi-stakeholder partnership, strengthen institutional connectivity and policy coordination, promote cross-sector fertilisation, and integrate sustainability issues into the formal and informal education system. In addition, we need to build the heartware of sustainability through faith, spirituality, and local wisdom.
Chheang Vannarith is a senior fellow and board member at Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP).