Environment, energy and transport
An important issue for ASEAN is the exploitation of Southeast Asia’s natural resources, which has led to the extinction of some animal and plant species. Today, the organization works to ensure that member states pay more attention to conserving biodiversity. A special institute has been set up for this purpose with EU support.
During the 1990’s, the problem of smoke haze became an increasingly pressing environmental issue for ASEAN. Forest fires, which were started by forestry companies to clear land for new planting or which were part of traditional swede farming, spread uncontrollably in Indonesian Sumatra and in Kalimantan. The fires gave rise to a thick, dangerous smoke haze that also affected neighboring Malaysia and Singapore. People occasionally had to stay indoors and tourism was negatively affected. ASEAN has prepared action plans for how the fires can be controlled. In April 2000, the environment ministers condemned the swidden farming method. At the same time, the principle of not interfering in each other’s internal affairs has led the other ASEAN countries to hesitate to press Indonesia for stronger action against the problem. In 2003, an agreement entered into force between the countries which, among other things, meant that the members would improve their information about the smoke haze and increase relief work in vulnerable areas. A meteorological institute in Singapore has the task of making long-term weather forecasts and warning of the risk of smoke fog in good time.
However, the problem of smoke fumes spreading across borders has continued during the 2000’s and early 2010’s. A special steering group for the southern ASEAN region was formed in 2006 with the task of coordinating work between the countries to overcome the fires and smoke fog. The southern steering group includes Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. In 2011, a northern steering group was also formed consisting of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
Standing for Association of Southeast Asian Nations according to Abbreviationfinder, ASEAN also works with development projects in the areas where swede farming still occurs.
At a meeting of environment ministers in Hua Hin, Thailand in September 2009, a special working group was appointed to focus on issues related to climate change. At the ASEAN Summit in Hanoi in April 2010, the countries’ leaders agreed to work to reach a legally binding agreement to reduce the region’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The energy sector is an important area of cooperation. The ASEAN countries have realized that they can benefit from interconnected networks for the distribution of electricity and natural gas. At the same time, member states have also begun to restructure and gradually deregulate their electricity markets. A project is underway to connect the countries’ electricity networks. ASEAN is trying to speed up the project, as well as the plans for a common gas pipeline network, so that the region can reduce its dependence on imported oil. One goal is for 15 percent of the energy consumed within ASEAN in 2015 to be of the renewable kind.
Collaboration projects are also underway on the communications side. There are plans for common motorway networks and new railway connections and to coordinate laws and safety regulations. At the beginning of the 2000’s, a common system for numbering roads and a work program for road safety were established. ASEAN also strives to strengthen cooperation in shipping, both in freight and passenger traffic. Deregulating and coordinating air traffic is one of the eleven areas that have been identified as a high priority on the road to a common market. The goal is to have a common market for air traffic and shipping in the ASEAN area by 2015.
Information technology is another area of cooperation. In the autumn of 2000, the countries signed a so-called eAsean framework agreement on a regional information technology structure and decided to open a regional market for e-commerce. ASEAN is also working to increase internet access in rural areas in the region, for example.
The Asian crisis had severe consequences for the population of the affected Asian countries. This led the countries to decide in December 1998 on a series of measures that would alleviate the social consequences of the crisis, including various forms of poverty reduction and rural development. The experience following the tsunami disaster in December 2004 culminated in the summer of 2005 in a disaster relief agreement. A special ASEAN fund for development was also established. Since then, Asean has provided emergency assistance to, among others, Myanmar, which was hit hard by the tropical cyclone Nargis in 2008, as well as Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam in connection with extensive floods in 2009. Asean also played an important role in the reconstruction work in Myanmar. until mid-2010.
There is also collaboration in, for example, research, information and journalism. In the field of culture, the countries have, among other things, conducted archaeological excavations, researched children’s rhymes and arranged music and theater festivals. ASEAN countries also cooperate in the education sector, including exchange programs, and on social issues such as women’s rights, health and the situation of young people.
In July 2009, the ASEAN countries to establish a Joint Commission for Human Rights (ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, the AICHR). At its first meeting in Jakarta in March-April 2010, the Commission began working on a five-year action plan and discussing issues to be prioritized – work that was completed the following year. There are plans to draw up an ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights. However, the AICHR has no mandate to punish a Member State that violates human rights.
In 2007, ASEAN adopted a Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.