Regional/Subregional Environmental Cooperation in Asia

Policy Report
Regional/Subregional Environmental Cooperation in Asia

Many of the environmental problems we face today are increasingly complex in nature and widespread in extent, and cut across national boundaries or are of global scale in their effects. But they are rarely truly global in their causes or sources. Even the so-called global environmental problems are rooted in human activities taking place at local and national levels, and therefore best dealt with at those levels closest to the source, rather than at the global level, although in most cases they do simultaneously require some kind of regulatory action and/or cooperative effort at international levels.

However, this does not negate the importance of regional approaches to dealing with problems of the environment commonly shared by countries within a geographical or economic/geopolitical region. Among the various United Nations bodies, UNEP has long recognized the importance of this regional approach, and established regional offices in each of the five regions of the world where the UN regional economic commissions are located, and assisted them in setting up environmental coordinating units (all of which have by now become fully established and incorporated into the institutional structure of the regional commissions). The Regional Seas Programme has been hailed as one of the greatest achievements of UNEP to date.

In the Asia-Pacific region, a “Regional Strategy for Environmentally Sound and Sustainable Development (ESSD)” was adopted at the second Ministerial Conference of ESCAP in 1991, followed five years later by the adoption of the “Regional Action Programme (RAP), 1996-2000” at the third Ministerial Conference.

Because of the vastness and diversity of the region in terms of geography, topography, climatic, ecological, and other natural conditions as well as differences in socio-cultural, economic and political systems, intergovernmental initiatives for environmental cooperation were first taken at the subregional level, starting with the adoption of the ASEAN Sub-regional Environment Programme (ASEP) in 1977, followed by the establishment of the South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP) in 1981, and the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in 1982. Subsequently, various action plans and work programmes were developed in more specific issue areas and sectors, together with appropriate supporting mechanisms and institutions. The Northeast Asia Sub-regional Programme on Environmental Cooperation (NEASPEC) is the latest addition to the list of intergovernmental programmes of action and cooperation at the subregional level. Besides these official programmes, there are many other forums and networks for environmental cooperation supported by international organizations, local governments, NGOs and private businesses.

Agenda 21 adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 gave further impetus to promoting regional and subregional cooperation (See Chapter 38 of Agenda 21 on International institutional arrangements: I) Regional and subregional cooperation and implementation.)

From its very outset, the Environmental Governance project (1998-2001) of IGES recognized the importance of promoting environmental cooperation at regional and subregional levels.
Environmental problem solving in the Asian region is made complex by differences in economic, political and cultural conditions. A challenge for the region is to develop governance mechanisms that can address both regional and global environmental problems.
The project examined selected national and sub-regional environmental governance systems in a cross-sectoral and comparative manner. In undertaking this research, IGES worked with networks in selected countries to develop both national and sub-regional perspectives. The project then examined the same type of questions at the sub-regional level. The sub-regions selected were Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia. Sub-regional studies were undertaken, both generally and in relation to the three issue areas (of climate change, forest conservation, and urban environment).
The present report is a compilation of the results of research work carried out by the Environmental Governance project of IGES.