ASEAN Needs China’s Support in Preserving Natural Treasures

Kung Phoak, deputy secretary-general of ASEAN for ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, delivers an opening speech at Erhai Forum on Ecological Civilization Construction via video link.

ASEAN has made great efforts in protecting its rich biodiversity and promoting ecologically sustainable cities. Erhai Forum on Global Ecological Civilization Construction marks a momentous occasion to share such stories when government leaders, entrepreneurs, environmental champions tabled discussions as part of the ongoing 15th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) or COP15 in Kunming.

ASEAN and China have long been close partners in many endeavors, including promoting environmental protection, specifically in biodiversity and ecological conservation, building eco-friendly cities, and advancing green industries and technologies. The recently adopted ASEAN-China Environmental Cooperation Strategy serves as proof of this shared commitment to further deepen and expand partnerships in areas related to ecosystem restoration, species conservation, sustainable urban development, and integrated water resources management, among others.

This year, 2021, has also been designated as the ASEAN-China Year of Sustainable Development Cooperation. This is in line with ASEAN and China’s shared desire to promote sustainable development in the region, underscoring the importance of sustaining economic growth while promoting social development and environmental protection. The inauguration ceremony was held in May 2021 in Beijing, further galvanizing stronger ASEAN-China cooperation to address emerging issues under the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including poverty eradication, disaster prevention and mitigation, and climate resilience enhancement.

COP15 is being convened to review global, regional, and national achievements of the targets set under the CBD’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020. ASEAN commend China’s leadership and commitment in hosting this important gathering to discuss where we are and where we should be headed in terms of protecting and preserving our precious ecosystems. Carrying the theme “Ecological Civilization: Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth,” this year’s COP also hopes to outline the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, with special emphasis on promoting nature-based solutions as the globe builds better and stronger post-COVID-19 time.

The ASEAN Member States, through its ASEAN Joint Statement, hope to actively participate in and forward its collective views and perspectives at the COP 15, highlighting the urgent need to halt biodiversity loss, reverse land degradation, and enhance climate change mitigation and adaptation in the region. The ASEAN Joint Statement outlines how the region is committed to aligning its local actions to the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and continues to mainstream biodiversity within and across sectors. Furthermore, the ASEAN Joint Statement seeks to underscore the importance of increasing the region’s resilience to prevent future pandemics and disasters.

The ASEAN region is known to be one of the world’s richest in terms of biological assets. It is the global epicenter for marine biodiversity and home to at least 60 percent of the world’s tropical peatlands, 42 percent of mangroves, and 15 percent of tropical forests. However, the region also faces serious challenges due to rapid deforestation, wildlife species extinction, and vulnerability to disasters. Certainly, it is imperative for ASEAN countries to take immediate actions. Stronger support from key partners, including China, is needed to ensure more sustained efforts are implemented to preserve and restore ASEAN’s rich natural treasures.

Recently, the region launched the ASEAN Green Initiative or AGI as a demonstration of its commitment to biodiversity conservation and ecosystem restoration. This initiative was designed to achieve the region’s “10-10-10 goal” or the planting of 10 million native trees in 10 ASEAN countries over the next 10 years. This involves mobilizing government agencies, communities, businesses, and even individuals to initiate tree planting and reforestation activities. Local efforts will be recognized under this program, especially those that contribute to enhance peoples’ well-being, improve livelihoods, and promote community resilience.

This year, ASEAN are also looking forward to formally launch the China- ASEAN Environment Outlook 2: Case Studies on Good Practices of Ecologically Friendly Cities in ASEAN and China. This pipeline project hopes to take stock of regional experiences and capture best practices among ASEAN and Chinese cities on five priority areas, including climate adaptation, urban wastes and coastal management, biodiversity conservation, sustainable community and smart solutions, and green finance.

ASEAN’s current efforts in promoting biodiversity conservation and building ecologically sustainable cities are in line with the ongoing initiatives to operationalize the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework, particularly on Broad Strategy 5: Advancing towards a More Sustainable and Resilient Future. Building urban resilience and restoring ecosystems are certainly among the key priorities in ASEAN’s post-pandemic recovery.

These are just some of the key achievement of ASEAN over the last few years. However, there are many areas where China and ASEAN can work together, especially in promoting a greener, cleaner, and more sustainable way of living. China’s commitment towards decarburization is welcoming and ASEAN hopes to see closer cooperation in this regard. ASEAN also would like to express their profound gratitude for China’s support in its fight against the impact of COVID-19 and the association does hope to foster stronger partnerships as they promote nature-based solutions as they rebuild and recover from the ongoing global health crisis.

At this critical point in time, investing in greener infrastructure and ensuring more sustainable urbanization in ASEAN cities are crucial. However, these would not be possible without the continuous support of our Dialogue and Development Partners. ASEAN hope to see the partnership with China to continue to flourish on this important regional development agenda. The region value all the contributions of the different sectors in this worthwhile endeavor, including those coming from the public and private sectors, development organizations, academia, civil society, and mass media.


Kung Phoak is the deputy secretary-general of ASEAN for ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. This article is excerpted from his opening message at Erhai Forum on Global Ecological Civilization Construction in Dali, southwestern Chinas Yunnan Province on October 9th, 2021.

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