An article by Ivana Gazibara (Head of Southeast Asia at Forum for the Future) in greenfutures magazine.

Ivana Gazibara, Forum for the Future’s Head of Southeast Asia, outlines seven trends that could make or break a sustainable future for the region.

No one could deny the pace of change in Southeast Asia: it’s one of the fastest growing economic regions in the world. But rapid growth and the rising aspirations of a growing middle class is increasing pressure on natural resources. Southeast Asia has lost 13% of its forests since 1992 – an area equivalent to the size of Vietnam, the United Nations Environmental Programme reports. The impacts of global deforestation on the climate will be felt close to home: the region is one of the world’s most vulnerable to climate change impacts, such as droughts, floods, typhoons, sea level rise and heat waves, notes Dr Raman Letchumanan, Head of Environment at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

So what’s the likelihood of a sustainable future for the region, and what will drive it? This is one of the questions that a new Futures Centre in Singapore, run by Forum for the Future, seeks to answer. The global sustainability non-profit is working actively in the region with business, civil society and government. This emerging conversation has prompted me to try to summarise some of the key things that we are hearing and observing in the region. This is not left-field stuff you’ve never heard of. Rather, these are the big picture trends that are going to be influencing policy, business practice and societal developments over the coming years. For Forum, they are particularly interesting not just as drivers of change, but also as systemic issues which interact with each other in complex ways.

As Stephanie Draper, Forum’s Deputy Chief Executive, explains, “Our work at Forum is often focused on creating change at a systemic level rather than working on isolated issues. We analyse trends and explore various scenarios to help our corporate and public sector partners plan better for change and work proactively towards a sustainable future.” The trends below need to be understood and addressed – not just as separate issues, but in tandem – if Southeast Asia is to fulfil the promise of the ‘Asian Century’ of growth and prosperity, and prove resilient in the long term.

1. Beyond the haze

The haze in Singapore has been the subject of much media attention and debate, with widespread public anger against the failure to enforce forest protection laws in the region. News coverage has contributed to rising environmental awareness: page views of the National Environment Agency website in Singapore went up by 610% during the haze. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this situation in the long-term will be the potential shift in public attitudes that it could signal, with more people looking to business and government for real leadership on natural resource management.

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