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ASEAN Countries Must Lead on Biodiversity

Southeast Asia is one of the world’s most biodiverse regions, and it is also highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Policymakers in the region must ensure that plans to preserve nature while promoting sustainable economic growth are part of the post-pandemic recovery.

MANILA – The combined effects of COVID-19 and climate change have revealed profound vulnerabilities in Southeast Asia. In the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the pandemic turned hospitals into mortuaries at the same time as natural disasters transformed coastal communities into washed-out mud flats. To improve regional resilience and promote sustainable growth, the post-COVID recovery must focus not only on decarbonization, but also on the protection of nature.

Throughout the region, nature remains in a policy silo, and the importance of biodiversity, in particular, rarely features prominently in economic development plans. Biodiversity provides food, water, shelter, and medicine. It contributes to social cohesion and climate stabilization, and can help humanity adapt to a changing environment. And yet the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework mentions biodiversity only once – in a footnote. Unless this approach changes, ASEAN member states risk sinking billions of development dollars into measures that fail to address a root cause of our current problems.

To lead our region toward recovery, resilience, and long-term sustainable development, ASEAN member states should commit to the 30x30 plan to protect nature. This initiative, which aims to conserve 30% of Earth’s lands and oceans by 2030, is a key element of the proposed global biodiversity framework, due to be finalized by 196 countries later this year, and is being championed by the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) of Nature and People. More than 70 countries have signed on to the HAC, but Cambodia is the only ASEAN member state among them.

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