NAY PYI TAW, MYANMAR – Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) countries pledged to redouble efforts to protect and enhance their natural assets—including forests, farmlands, wetlands and water bodies—to ensure they contribute to inclusive and sustainable development, amid concerns that failure to take action threatens the subregion’s growth prospects.

Environment leaders from GMS countries at the subregion’s Fourth Environment Ministers’ Meeting called for stronger partnerships to raise awareness and generate information about natural assets, to coordinate and finance initiatives to safeguard them, and to develop ways of ensuring that sustainability considerations inform policy, planning and investment decisions.

“Natural capital/resources lie at the heart of economic development,” said a Joint Ministerial Statement by environment leaders of Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, People’s Republic of China, Thailand and Viet Nam. “Future prosperity of the GMS will depend on timely and effective investments to protect and enhance its natural capital/resources.”

Natural capital is the stock of natural assets that generate a flow of ecosystem services—such as food, water, energy and disease control—essential for economic development and human wellbeing. It is particularly important for the GMS, which is highly dependent on farmlands, forests, wetlands, mangroves, and associated ecosystem services to generate economic opportunities. Natural capital assets account for between 20% and 55% of wealth among the GMS countries, making their protection vital for future prosperity.

Natural capital plays a key role in the lives of the poor in the GMS, where 60 million rural people depend on their environment for food, water, energy and income. However, overexploitation of natural resources, vulnerability to climate change, and ever-increasing natural disasters are threatening the livelihoods of these communities. Moreover, environmental degradation poses risks to sustained long-term economic growth in the subregion and could cost $55 billion in foregone services over the next 25 years if left unchecked,

“A key challenge facing the GMS in the coming decades is to meet increasing demand for food, energy, water and other natural resources while at the same time ensuring such resources are readily available for future generations,” said James Nugent, Director General of Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Southeast Asia Department, in welcoming remarks at the meeting.

Mr. Nugent called for the social and economic contribution of nature’s assets to be properly assessed and valued to give policy-makers crucial insights into the trade-offs involved in development decisions. Inclusiveness and sustainability considerations should inform the design and delivery of an over $30 billion pipeline of high priority economic development projects identified by the Regional Investment Framework Implementation Plan at last December’s 5th GMS Leaders Summit, he said.

ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration. Established in 1966, it is owned by 67 members – 48 from the region. 

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