BANGKOK, THAILAND - The management of food, water and energy resources in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) will be the most critical challenge of the coming decade, requiring careful balance of economic and environmental interests and better management of natural resources, a conference on the future of the region heard today.
"We need to chart a pro-poor, pro-environment roadmap to 2020. The challenge is to increase efficiencies in resource use, restore and recapitalize the natural resource base, and safeguard environmental quality while creating jobs and sustaining economic growth," said Stephen P. Groff, Asian Development Bank (ADB) Vice-President (Operations 2), at the GMS 2020: Balancing Economic Growth and Environmental Sustainability International Conference, which opened today.
During the two-day conference, policy-makers from Cambodia, the People's Republic of China (PRC), Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam, as well as development partners, academics and private sector representatives, will consider how best to bring about a balanced convergence between economic growth and environmental sustainability.
Food demand from the Mekong River Basin, for instance, is projected to increase by 20 to 50% by 2030. Demands on the use of water for agriculture, energy production, and domestic and industrial use is exponentially increasing, while ground and surface water sources are depleting and degrading.
Sustainability in the 21st century will require investments in smart development, Mr. Groff said, pointing to innovations such as fuel-efficient freight fleets, clean energy sources, less water intensive crops, improved biotechnology for lower use of chemical fertilizers, and greater levels of rain harvesting and recycling in urban centers. These measures not only make environmental sense, they can also reduce costs.
Precision agriculture, efficient water supply and re-use, and clean energy fuels are already part of the green growth agenda in the region, they simply need appropriate policy signals and regulatory incentives in order to be implemented.
GMS leaders have already committed to greater economic and environmental cooperation, signing a 10-year strategic framework in 2011 that places the effective use of environmental and natural resources at its core.
ADB stands ready to work with GMS countries and development partners to shape a roadmap catalyzing investments for a "greener" development trajectory in the region. In 2010, ADB approved 50 projects with environmental sustainability, totaling about $4.8 billion - representing a 52% increase over 2009 in the number of projects.