November 23, 2007 (TodayOnline) – Amid the mixed emotions at Asean’s highly eventful 13th Summit — with Myanmar’s intransigence the mood dampener — significant agreements and declarations were announced at the end of the meeting and the related gatherings.
Their respective agendas should prompt us to examine the issues and initiatives these regional security frameworks have identified to respond to pressing security challenges confronting the region today. The salient question is whether these regional structures are prepared and equipped to respond to the host of security threats that have emerged on the horizon.
Three key issues dominated the meeting this week: Climate change, energy and the environment. At the end of the Asean Summit, the leaders adopted the “Asean Declaration on Environmental Sustainability”.
Similarly, at the 3rd East Asian Summit (EAS), the “Singapore Declaration on the Climate Change, Energy and the Environment” was adopted.
There are obviously many more issues that can be added to the list of security challenges facing Asean and the wider East Asia. But, to be sure, these declarations are clearly reflective of the kinds of challenges that are high on the security agenda.
Climate change is emerging as a major security issue. In fact, climate change had already featured in the agenda of the 2nd East Asian Summit in January.
There is now a flood of information from scientific studies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the security implications of climate change on state and human security.
Despite this and the resulting publicity, there has yet to be a clear regional strategy to deal with the number of cross-cutting security risks from climate change, be it at the Asean or the wider East Asian region, at least until the release of these statements.
The inclusion of climate change in the agenda for cooperation is therefore highly significant given the urgency this issue commands.
Nevertheless, while discussions are very much at an early stage, the grave security implications of the effects of climate change should propel Asean and the EAS to craft more defined strategies in mitigating the multiple risks and threats emerging.
Thus, while the EAS declaration is a positive step forward, the decision not to include numerical targets on carbon emission reductions raises questions as to the capacity of this region — which has two of the largest emitting countries — to respond decisively to a very serious emerging threat.
The issue of energy security is not new, although this has now gained currency. Much of the security forecasting in the region has, for some time, identified energy security as Asia’s key security risk.
So far, much of the framing of energy security risks had focused on security of supply, security of access to resources and sustainable pricing.
Yet, Asean has not had a clear energy policy until very recently. The Asean Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (2004-2009) outlined, among others, plans to establish interconnecting agreements in the field of energy through the Asean Power Grid and Trans-Asean Gas Pipeline.
This and the development of new and renewable energy resources notwithstanding, not much has been heard of about the progress of these plans, except for information available by the Asean Secretariat.
It may be timely to examine the problems that have held up the implementation of these projects.
Aside from ideas about having a regional power grid and gas pipeline, several issues need to be further explored.
Based on the European Union experience, these issues include the possibility of stockpiling energy reserves, infrastructure investments and sharing of technology, particularly in areas of energy efficiency and conservation.
Given the enormous task of dealing with energy security, inter-Asean cooperation needs to be synergised with the other regional frameworks that deal with this issue, be it at the Asean Plus Three or the East Asian level.
The strategies to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change, as well as to address the challenges of energy security, must take into account their environmental impact.
This triangular relationship obviously complicates decisions on how the respective issues are to be efficiently tackled and how regional cooperation can proceed. More importantly, crafting regional responses would need to consider the larger political, economic and social conditions of the states and societies in the region.
This is no mean task to handle for any regional framework — be it Asean, Asean Plus Three or EAS. This is where sustainable development as a possible framework for intra and inter-regional cooperation can be useful.
The bringing together of ‘Energy, Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development’ as one broad yet inter-related theme this week is, therefore, positive and reflects the multi-sectoral impact of these issues.
Despite the potential disagreements that could emerge in mapping out regional responses, the shared vulnerabilities of the regional states should be enough impetus for the regional leaders, as well the relevant state and non-state actors, to navigate through contentious waters to urgently address these security threats.
As with many non-traditional threats which are transboundary, regional multilateral approaches are critical given the limited resources of individual states.
This is why, despite their weaknesses and limitations, it is still worth pinning our hopes on the strengthening of regional frameworks to help ensure the security of states and societies in the region.
Associate Professor Mely Caballero-Anthony is Coordinator of the Non-Traditional Security Studies in Asia programme at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.