|South-East Asia's Environmental Future: The Search for Sustainability (UNU, 1993, 422 pages)|
The Conference on Which This Book Is Based
IN May 1991, a conference was held at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on 'Toward a Sustainable Environmental Future for the Southeast Asian Region'. The conference was organized by the United Nations University (UNU), with the participation of Gadjah Mada University, the Research School of Pacific Studies in the Australian National University, and the East-West Center Environment and Policy Institute. As described in the Foreword, this conference was the first in a series held by the UNU on environmentally sustainable development in the major regions of the tropical developing world.
Brookfield was charged with organizing the conference, and then with editing this book, which is its product. The task of assembling a team of speakers and discussants occupied several months during which, together with Dr Juha Uitto, the UNU Academic Officer responsible for the conference, he tried to gather experts who would be both competent and well-informed, and who would also represent most parts of the region. Most, but not all those invited, were both willing and able to attend, and they proved to be a very good team indeed. Those assembled in Yogyakarta included strong representation from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, rather fewer from Thailand, one from Brunei, but no one from Singapore. Unfortunately, it was not possible to attract any speakers from the socialist countries, though we tried; this is an unfortunate gap carried forward into the book. There was good representation from Australia, where academic interest in the region is strong, and also from the East-West Center in Honolulu. One speaker came from Japan, one from Taiwan and other participants were drawn from Germany and Ireland.
The Meaning of 'a Sustainable Environmental Future'
The reader will quickly see that few of the authors and discussants can identify much that is 'sustainable' in the present and prospective pattern of resource use, yet many have constructive ideas about what should be done within the next 10-20 years, which is the time horizon addressed, that is, up to the year 2010. The term 'sustainability' came into the development literature only during the 1980s, though many of the ideas embodied are much older, especially in agriculture and forestry. As used in the influential Brundtland report (World Commission, 1987: 43), the term means 'development that meets the goals of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. Since the 'goals of the present' certainly include improvements in wealth and welfare, and hence continued economic growth, this immediately raises serious questions for the environmental future. In this region, the population is growing quite rapidly, and the achievement of rapid economic growth has depended heavily on expanded utilization of natural resources, together with industrialization and urbanization, and increasing use of energy. This is not a region in which a 'steady state'-in which resources are used only at their rate of natural regeneration or reproduction (Daly and Cobb, 1989)-is socially, politically or demographically feasible.
In so far as renewable resources are concerned, the proper meaning of sustainability has to be that resources, while yielding an economically satisfactory reward, are at the same time maintained or improved, requiring a considerable input of 'adaptive human artifice' (Brookfield, 1991: 51). It requires that natural capital be augmented, rather than drawn down (Pearce, Barbier and Markandya, 1990: 15). In regard to non-renewable resources, ultimately sustainable use is impossible, but the rate of depletion needs to be optimized with due regard to the possibilities of substitution (Pearce and Turner, 1990: 24). In particular, non-renewable resources need to be quite strictly defined, and resources that are renewable only in the long term of many decades should not-if sustainability is the object-be treated as though they were non-renewable and quickly 'mined' to exhaustion.
These are exacting standards, but it is by such standards that sustainability must be judged. The question of 'augmentation of natural capital' acquires particular importance in a region of rapid demographic and economic growth where, without such augmentation, an insufficiency of resources to meet the needs of future generations can be predicted with certainty. Many forms of renewable natural capital can be improved and augmented, but augmentation creates a serious dilemma since this can be done only at a price. The price is the cost of foregoing some immediate benefit from use of the resource in order to prolong its existence or enhance its qualities. In an earlier era of slower change, this price was quite often and widely paid, and the spectacular terracing of steeplands in the Mountain province of the Philippines is perhaps the most striking illustration in the SouthEast Asian region. Moreover, the price is still being paid by-as Nibbering (1991a: 130) remarks in a specific context, but with wider application-'farmers who are largely dependent on the few natural resources they may control will go to great lengths to conserve those resources as soon as they perceive them to be endangered'. However, in a time of rapid change, and of high and rising expectations, the price is paid much less readily; the cost is in lower short-term gain and slower growth. Writer after writer in this book underscores this basic problem.
Questions of Global Sustainability
The main concern of most authors in this book is with the internal problems of a large developing region, and with global environmental change and variability as it impinges on the region. However, the questions arising from world-wide interest in the fate of the tropical rain forests, and of this region's contribution to pollution of the global atmosphere and seas, are raised at several points in the book. The issue of a wider responsibility for stewardship of a section of the global commons underlies a good deal of the discussion, though it surfaces only in a few instances. One area in which it arises, however, is in the realization that South-East Asia-the most successful developing part of the Tropics since the early 1980s- has some responsibility to lead the way towards a more sustainable management of the tropical lands, and a set of lifestyle goals that are not simply a copy of those in the affluent and profligate West. At the conference, this argument was the particular contribution of the doyen of South-East Asian environmentalists-Otto Soemarwoto-in many of his wise interventions. In final remarks that are not reported in the text, he told the participants to talk less and to do more develop a sustainable environmental future by example.
The 'South-East Asian Region'
It was decided at an early stage to draw the boundaries of the 'South-East Asian region' widely. Although the problems of the six Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN)-Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei and Singapore-dominated the conference, attention was also paid to the mainland states of Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and also to Papua New Guinea; it was reasoned that since Irian Jaya is included as a part of Indonesia, the other half of the great island should be thought as much a part of the larger South-East Asian region as is Myanmar. The problems of defining the region gained an amusing twist during the meeting when it was learned that some of the scientists in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in their wisdom, defined a South-East Asia which included India and excluded the larger part of ASEAN (Mitchell et al., 1990:156-8). Unfortunately, this error is being repeated in more widely accessible literature where it could lead to false conclusions. One such is in Parry's (1990:17-18) low-cost statement on agriculture and climatic change.
As defined at the conference, the South-East Asian region spans both hemispheres and extends through 60 degrees of longitude. Except for the north of Myanmar, all of it lies within the Tropics, but it covers a very wide range of environments. Geologically, its varied landscape is dominated by the mountain and island arcs formed by convergence of the Indo-Australian, Eurasian and Philippine plates to the south, north and east. It includes sites in which agriculture is as old as anywhere else in the world, and in which great civilizations flourished during the Dark Ages of Europe. Yet in the eighteenth century, most of it was sparsely peopled and open to the wave of Western colonization that, from a few footholds, spread over almost all the region by the end of the nineteenth century. It was a major theatre of war in the 1940s, and another major war was fought in part of it during the third quarter of the twentieth century. Decolonization and nation-building have been accompanied by considerable and prolonged violence, and most of South-East Asia has enjoyed less than half a century of real, modern independence.
According to the 1990 figures, the whole South-East Asian region is home to nearly half a billion people. By the early twenty-first century, it will have significantly more than this number. By that time, there will not be many left who will remember the region as it once was: relatively small areas of intensive cultivation surrounded by forests and the sea, with few cities and fewer manufacturing industries, a poor region contributing mainly industrial cash crops to the rest of the world. The region described in these pages has great diversity, but all is in rapid transition. In the 1990s, its closest economic linkages are with the thriving economies of North-East Asia, and together with them and with China, it constitutes the West Pacific Rim, already a principal arena of world trade which, some say, will be viewed as the real 'new world' of the twenty-first century.
Making a book out of a set of conference papers is never easy, especially if the quality of the discussion is to be preserved and displayed. Except for the Conclusion and this Preface, all the chapters and discussions in this book were first presented in Yogyakarta. A few of the papers are published here unaltered apart from editing; others have been substantially rewritten by their authors. The discussant comments that follow the chapters are in most cases edited from text material supplied, but a few are published almost without change. Gaps have been filled, and brief summaries of discussion written, from notes kept by rapporteurs at the conference and by Brookfield. The conference order of material has been varied a little for book production, and a different grouping of issues has been adopted to facilitate signposting of the text.
The chapters-each with its commentator's remarks or subsidiary paper, and a report on discussion-are divided into four parts. Each part is prefaced by an editorial introduction, reviewing its content and principal message. Part I brings together five chapters on 'The Driving Forces of Change': development, population, urbanization, the specific questions of energy and mineral use and of deforestation. Part II has three chapters on 'Climatic Change and Variability', which are important issues for the future global climatic change and variability, the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the effect of climatic variability on agriculture. Parts III and IV treat 'Selected Issues' in depth. In Part III, four chapters deal with specific environmental problems arising from the Green Revolution: use of the uplands, the problem of fire, and the condition of the seas and inshore areas. The three chapters in Part IV concern vulnerable places and peoples and issues of the urban environment. Several chapters throughout the book, but especially this last one, deal with policy and institutional questions. Part V consists of a single chapter presenting conclusions and recommendations, and attempts to answer the central issue in the subtitle of the book: the search for sustainability.
Editing has been rigorous. Except where substantive text changes have been proposed, revised texts have not been returned to authors for their approval. To do so, or to submit edited commentary material for amendment, would have led to unacceptable delay in completion of a timely manuscript, thereby risking loss of impact. The Editors had, therefore, to take many final decisions, and they accept responsibility for these decisions. The result was a comparatively expeditious completion of a large and complicated manuscript. The cheerful co-operation of all participants in meeting deadlines-or at least trying hard to meet them under what has, admittedly, been some fairly strong pressure from the Editors-has made this possible.
Throughout this book, all references to dollars ($) are to the US dollar, unless otherwise specified; and the word 'billion' refers to the American usage of the word, that is, one thousand million ( 1,000,000,000).