AAYLF delegate from Australia Leila Bowe explores framing environmental problems within the economic, social and development problems to tackle the biggest challenges.
It is no surprise that countries included in the ASEAN-Australian partnership are extremely vulnerable to natural hazards. What makes these hazards a disaster is how much they impact vulnerable populations. Climate change is not only increasing the intensity of natural disasters but also the frequency. Mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions is the ideal solution and approach to minimising environmental impacts. However, with regards to mitigation, Australia and ASEAN countries are in a bit of a paradox. Economically, it is seen as difficult for Australia to divest from the mining of natural resources. It is also difficult for developing countries in the ASEAN region to develop without consuming mined natural resources. Expecting these countries to find alternative methods of development is somewhat unjust, as mass consumption is how Australia developed.
This intersection between fossil fuel consumption and development is certainly an opportunity for ASEAN countries and Australia to work together on and a paradigm that needs to be shifted. However, in the interim there is a need to adapt to the already known impacts of natural disasters and this is also a great opportunity for collaboration.
Australia and many ASEAN countries have vast coastlines. The combination of warmer waters, changing microclimates, sea level rise, polluting of waterways and large populations living on coastlines create the perfect storm for natural disasters. A shift needs to be made to make coastline communities more resilient to inevitable disasters.
As these are shared issues, the way forward is the sharing knowledge and research to achieve the common goal of resilience. To be successful, climate change adaptation solutions need to consider the economy, environment and social sustainability (triple bottom line). Recent research and trial implementation in low-lying communities has shown that wetland ecosystems have the potential to straddle this triple bottom line. The benefits of wetland ecosystems include carbon sequestration, water and air pollutant filtration, reducing coastal erosion by dampening wave power and also providing habitat for fish and prawn nurseries. While they provide a lot of opportunity to lessen physical vulnerabilities, they also provide opportunity to lessen the social vulnerabilities of communities. Providing jobs in fisheries, research and education are just some of the opportunities.
Another opportunity to strengthen community resilience to disasters is in ASEAN and Australia’s relationship with waste management. Australia only recycles about 12% of our recyclable waste and some of the remainder that isn’t stored in landfill is sent to ASEAN countries, such as the Philippines. Waste sorting in ASEAN countries provides some lower socio-economic communities with income, a way of life and becomes a centre of the community. Australia is beginning to look at alternatives to shipping waste overseas, which would negatively impact the income stream to these communities. If this is going to be the most environmentally sustainable way forward for Australia, the ASEAN-Australia partnership needs to work together to ensure that it is the most economically and socially sustainable way forward for these communities too. Opportunities for reskilling workers could be established and developing cooperative initiatives that are people-centred and recognise local power dynamics. These initiatives could include teaching trade skills in schools and educating women in WASH initiatives to disseminate information on the need for sanitation, because in many countries women are seen as the educators. Particularly it is important to focus on re-skilling to rebuilding more resilient infrastructure during post-natural disaster phases, which is a job often completed by aid agencies.
Often environmental issues are framed as an isolated problem, which can often result in a lack of momentum and a problem that only “greenies” care about. However, framing environmental problems as intersecting with economic, social and development problems could present them as more of a priority. By understanding the impact of ecosystem health on local economic productivity and community resilience, decision-makers will be forced to consider infrastructure design and management strategies that preserve the environment for future generations.