ISEAS-SPF Webinar on “Business Imperatives of Environmental Protection”

This webinar discussed the current status of environmental protection and sustainable investments into Southeast Asia, and how future sustainability projects can be financially optimised.

Enhancing Responsible Business in Southeast Asia

Wednesday, 30 September 2020 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute in partnership with the Sasakawa Peace Foundation held a webinar on “Business Imperatives of Environmental Protection”. The webinar is part of a six-part ISEAS-SPF Asia Impact Dialogue Webinar Series on “Enhancing Responsible Business in Southeast Asia”.

Moderated by Coordinator of the Climate Change in Southeast Asia Programme at ISEAS, Ms Sharon Seah, the webinar featured the insights of Dr Diana Suhardiman (International Water Management Institute), Dr Angela Tritto (Institute of Emerging Market Studies & The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology), and Dr Diane Tang-Lee (International Council on Mining and Metals). The speakers presented their insights on the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of overseas-funded infrastructure and mining activities in Southeast Asia, and discussed recommendations for sustainable ESG (environmental, social and governance) investments and projects.

Dr Diana Suhardiman
Dr Diana Suhardiman spoke on “(Re)assembling State power through the Laos-China Railway Project”. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The webinar began with Dr Diana Suhardiman‘s presentation which analysed how the Lao government has capitalised on the Laos-China Railway project to exert influence and direct national economic development. She argued that centralised compensation rules and procedures allowed the state to expand its power, while limiting the roles of provincial, district and local authorities. Despite a new law on railways and an institutional structure that formalised rules and procedures to ensure fair and transparent compensation for affected households, her interviews found that affected households lacked access to such information and were not involved in initial discussions with provincial and district Compensation and Mitigation Committees. Dr Suhardiman emphasised the need for centralized compensation rules that connect and synergize with the development visions of central and provincial/district governments. 

Dr Angela Tritto
Dr Angela Tritto spoke on “Making the Belt and Road Environmentally Sustainable in Southeast Asia”. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Angela Tritto assessed the impact of sustainability trends on Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects and how BRI can be more environmentally sustainable. In her classification and review of investments in BRI facilitated projects, Dr Tritto noted the agency of participating countries in the selection, negotiation and management of these projects. She noted that the level of willingness and commitment towards renewable energy transitions and green investments varied widely across Southeast Asia. She observed that Indonesia’s investments ––– which attracted the largest increase since the launch of the BRI ––– have been channelled into the construction of coal power plants, energy intensive and resource depleting industries. These activities have significant environmental and health implications. To enhance environmental sustainability of BRI, she called for stronger commitment from China and host countries to invest in green technologies, and enhance screening, participatory mechanisms and governance to control illicit investments.

Dr Diane Tang-Lee
Dr Diane Tang-Lee examined “ESG and Tailings Management in the Southeast Asia’s Mining Industry” via video presentation. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Finally, Dr Diane Tang-Lee examined the implications of cross-sector partnerships and outcomes on sustainable ESG investing, in the context of mine tailings facility management. She explained that mine tailings, a by-product in the extraction of valuable minerals and metals, can cause significant harm to the environment and local communities if not properly managed. This is evidenced by the Brumadinho dam disaster in January 2019 which killed more than 250 people. In response, a Global Tailings Review was initiated which resulted in the development of a Global Industry Standard that encapsulated the entire tailings facility lifecycle. Dr Tang-Lee said that a multi-stakeholder governance structure was crucial in ensuring equal participation, collaborative partnership and instilling confidence in stakeholders. Despite a complex process, she believed that the outcomes are more impactful and has driven responsible implementation of the Standard by companies and investors. 

The webinar concluded with a Question and Answer session. The topics raised by the online audience included the impact of China’s pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 on overseas BRI projects; ESG reporting requirements by Chinese companies; implications of Covid-19 on infrastructure projects and ESG investments; ESG best practices from countries in Southeast Asia; how to include stakeholders and affected local communities in decision-making; recommendations to improve overall ESG reporting, transparency and accountability; and the relationship between environmental and human rights protection. 

Over 70 participants attended the webinar. Ms Sharon Seah moderated the session. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)