Secretary’s Remarks: From a Swift Boat to a Sustainable Mekong

More than four decades ago, as a young lieutenant in the “brown-water Navy,” my crew and I journeyed down the Mekong River on an American gunboat. Even with the war all around us, in quiet moments we couldn’t help but be struck by the beauty and the power of the river — the water buffalo, the seafood we traded for with local fishermen, the mangrove on the sides of the river and inlets.

Long ago, those waterways of war became waters of peace and commerce — the United States and Vietnam are in the 20th year of a flourishing relationship.

Today, the Mekong faces a new and very different danger — one that threatens the livelihoods of tens of millions and symbolizes the risk climate change poses to the entire planet. Unsustainable growth and development along the full reach of the river are endangering its long-term health and the region’s prosperity.

From the deck of our swift boat in 1968 and 1969, we could see that the fertile Mekong was essential to the way of life and economy of the communities along its banks. In my many visits to the region since then as a senator and secretary of state, I’ve watched the United States and the countries of Southeast Asia work hand in hand to pursue development in a way that boosts local economies and sustains the environment.

Despite those efforts, the Mekong is under threat. All along its 2,700 miles, the growing demand for energy, food, and water is damaging the ecosystem and jeopardizing the livelihoods of 240 million people. Unsustainable development and the rapid pace of hydropower development are undermining the food and water needs of the hundreds of millions of people who depend on the river.

What’s at stake? In Cambodia, the Mekong supports the rich biodiversity of a watershed that provides more than 60 percent of the country’s protein. In Vietnam, it irrigates the country’s “rice bowl” that feeds the fast-growing economy. Throughout the region, the river is a vital artery for transportation, agriculture, and electricity generation.

The Mekong rivals the Amazon for biodiversity. Giant Mekong catfish and the Irrawaddy dolphin are unique to the river, and scientists are constantly identifying new species of animals and plants across the delta. Some of these newly discovered species could one day hold the promise of new lifesaving drugs.

The challenge is clear: The entire Mekong region must implement a broad strategy that makes sure future growth does not come at the expense of clean air, clean water, and a healthy ecosystem. Pulling off this essential task will show the world of what is possible.

The fate of this region will also have an impact on people living far beyond it. For instance, U.S. trade with the Mekong region increased by 40 percent from 2008 to 2014. This trend has meant more jobs for Americans and continued economic growth for countries across Southeast Asia.

Meeting this challenge requires that we work with these countries to address very real development needs even as we work to sustain the environment. This requires good data for proper analysis and planning, smart investments, strong leaders, and effective institutions to manage the Mekong’s riches for the benefit of everyone in the region.

To that end, we joined with Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, to launch the Lower Mekong Initiative. Its goal is to create a shared vision of growth and opportunity that recognizes the river’s role as an economic engine and respects its place in the environment.

That is why this week (Feb. 2 and 3) the United States and the government of Laos are co-hosting a major meeting of senior officials from the five lower Mekong countries, the United States, and the European Union in Pakse, Laos, where the Mekong and Xe Don rivers meet. They will be joined by representatives of the private sector and donors like the Asian Development Bank to work on a blueprint for a sustainable future.

At the meeting, we will launch the Sustainable Mekong Energy Initiative, a plan to encourage the countries of the region to develop programs that will redirect their investments to innovations in renewable energy and other sources that do not harm the environment.

This is not a question of dictating the path of development in these countries. Rather, it is about the United States and other countries working alongside our partner nations to establish a consistent set of investment and development guidelines that ensure long-term environmental health and economic vitality all along the river’s path.

This partnership is an essential part of the broader effort by President Barack Obama and the entire administration to support the people of the Asia-Pacific region, and a further sign of our commitment to helping these vibrant economies and emerging democracies.

For Americans and Southeast Asians of my generation, the Mekong River was once a symbol of conflict. But today it can be a symbol of sustainable growth and good stewardship.

Helen Clark: Opening Speech at the South-South Co-operation on Climate Change Forum UN Climate Change Conference COP20, Lima, Peru

08 Dec 2014

UNDP is very pleased to be co-sponsoring this Forum with the National Development and Reform Commission of China and the United Nations Environment Programme. We also thank UNFCCC, the Swiss Development Co-operation, WWF-China, INTASAVE, and the China Academy of Science for their support for this event.

There are many experiences on tackling climate change to be exchanged through South-South Co-operation. The path which China itself is taking is of great global interest.

The large population and economy of China make its moves on climate change very significant. We see that four of the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturers and five of the world’s largest solar energy equipment manufacturers are now from China. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that in 2013 there were 2.6 million people employed in the renewable energy sector in China. That is around forty per cent of the entire global labour force employed in that sector.

Recently China has made two very important announcements on climate change. At the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York in September, China pledged to double its support to South-South Co-operation on climate change. Then, just last month, the Presidents of China and the United States announced new climate change commitments. Accordingly, China intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030, and to make best efforts to peak early. It also intends to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around twenty per cent by 2030.

I congratulate Minister Xie and NDRC for their important role in making these commitments. Your actions will undoubtedly inspire others to pursue pathways to more sustainable futures.

UNDP works with many developing countries to support both adaptation to climate change and mitigation strategies. All have experiences to share. Let me mention just three of many countries where we are proud to be associated with groundbreaking work:

Ethiopia’s “Climate Resilient Green Economy” (CRGE) strategy is a central element in the country’s ambition to become a low-carbon middle income economy by 2025. The Government has set up a national financial mechanism to mobilize, access, and combine domestic and international public and private sources of finance to support the implementation of the Strategy.

• The Government of Viet Nam is taking a number of steps to address climate change and advance green growth, including through developing national climate change and green growth strategies and legal frameworks on environmental protection.

• In Egypt, with backing from UNDP and the GEF, the Government is creating enabling conditions for the implementation of a Bioenergy National Programme (BNP) which focuses on addressing climate change through low emission energy generation. The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) is leading the development of a commercially-viable, market-oriented, biogas sector through a range of measures, including piloting technology, capacity building for policy makers, and support to households.

In tackling climate change, we can all learn from the many initiatives which have been taken around the world. Policies, skills, and technical expertise originating from countries in the South on low emission and climate resilient development pathways are being shared through South-South Co-operation.

As the largest service provider in the UN system on climate change and environmental initiatives, UNDP has supported more than 140 countries to pursue low emission and climate resilient development pathways. Supporting South-South Co-operation is an important and growing part of our work. Our role is that of a knowledge broker, a builder of capacities, and a facilitator of exchanges of expertise and experiences. We bring to this task an understanding and experience of what is working around the world, which derives from our universal presence in developing countries.

In 2012, for example, UNDP hosted a sustainable energy forum, where representatives from a number of developing countries came together to showcase and share energy access solutions. The Forum enabled participants to learn from each other’s successes, and to apply that knowledge to sustainable energy policy and planning back home.

Under its new Strategic Plan, UNDP is significantly stepping up its promotion of South-South Co-operation, with the Canada-UNDP Climate Change Adaptation Facility supporting us to do that. Under the Facility, we are supporting six countries – Cambodia, Cape Verde, Haiti, Mali, Niger, and Sudan – to address food security through climate-resilient approaches to agriculture and water management, with special attention paid to women’s needs. A central element of this programme is the promotion of exchanges of knowledge and experiences between the six countries.

Another example of our commitment to supporting South-South Co-operation on climate change is the Adaptation Learning Mechanism (ALM) – UNDP administers this online forum, and works in partnership with other agencies to provide a platform for practitioners to exchange knowledge and experiences on climate change adaptation. The majority of the exchanges on the platform are between countries in the South.

Conclusion

Today’s Forum will raise awareness of the role which South-South Co-operation can play and is playing in climate change adaptation and mitigation. It will discuss the opportunities to play that role – and the challenges which lie ahead.

I am convinced that South-South Co-operation will have a vital role to play in implementing the new global climate agreement -which we all hope to see reached in Paris next year.

I hope that participants at the Forum today will leave energized to step up the promotion of South-South Co-operation on climate change even further. We at UNDP are committed to partner with you to help make this happen.

FACT SHEET: 2nd ASEAN-U.S. Summit

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

November 13, 2014

Today, President Obama met with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders and foreign ministers and the ASEAN Secretariat’s Secretary-General at the 2nd ASEAN-U.S. Summit in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. President Obama reaffirmed the importance of U.S.-ASEAN ties as a crucial element of the United States’ strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region and highlighted many of the cooperative activities the United States has undertaken with ASEAN across its economic, political-security, and socio-cultural pillars.

Economic Engagement

U.S.-ASEAN Expanded Economic Engagement (E3): To expand trade and investment ties between the United States and ASEAN and to create new jobs and business opportunities, President Obama in 2012 announced the creation of an Enhanced Economic Engagement Initiative (E3).  Under the E3, the United States is working with ASEAN to promote trade facilitation, standards development and practices, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and establishing open and transparent investment and information technology environments. In August 2014, U.S. businesses participated in the 2nd ASEAN-U.S. Business Summit, which focused on improving the capacity of SMEs to connect to regional and global supply chains.

Commercial Engagement: The U.S. Departments Commerce and State will sponsor four business and trade delegations to ASEAN next year focused on a range of sectors, including health and energy.  The first delegation will take place in February 2015, going to the Philippines and Indonesia, and focusing on the health sector.  These delegations will visit several ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia, and will be led by senior officials.

Lower Mekong Initiative Business Delegation: The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and USAID, in cooperation with U.S. businesses, will lead a business delegation to the Lower Mekong region in 2015 to highlight regional energy security and sustainability.  The delegation will complement the Extraordinary Meeting of the Friends of the Lower Mekong scheduled for January 2015, in which eight of the largest donor states and organizations will meet to discuss regional development strategies.

ASEAN Reverse Trade Mission and Symposium: In collaboration with the U.S. Departments of Commerce, State, and Energy, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency plans to lead a high-level ASEAN Ministers Energy and Transport Infrastructure Symposium and Reverse Trade Mission in 2015. The event will enhance U.S. economic engagement in Southeast Asia, increase U.S. economic opportunities and jobs, and advance ASEAN’s infrastructure priorities targeted by the U.S.-Asia Pacific Comprehensive Energy Partnership (USACEP) and the U.S.-ASEAN Connectivity Cooperation Initiative by connecting policy makers with U.S. suppliers.

Advancing Entrepreneurship and Business Growth: The U.S.-ASEAN Business Alliance for Competitive SMEs, a public private partnership between USAID and the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, held training programs in five ASEAN countries and will soon begin creating an online academy to support SMEs in three key areas: access to finance; access to regional and international markets; and access to information and information technology.

ASEAN Integration and ASEAN Single Window (ASW): The United States is supporting the creation of an ASEAN Single Window through the ASEAN Connectivity through Trade and Investment (ACTI) program. The ASW is a hallmark of ASEAN’s progress toward building the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 that is designed to speed customs clearance procedures and lower costs for businesses, allowing increased trade.

Environmentally Sustainable Energy Development: The U.S. Department of Energy, the Department of State and USAID continue to support the U.S.-Asia Comprehensive Energy Partnership, and in 2014 held a workshop on rural electrification with the ASEAN Center for Energy, cosponsored with Brunei a Renewable and Alternative Energy Financing Workshop to highlight financing and technical assistance resources available for renewable energy project, and co-sponsored with Vietnam a regional Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program workshop.

Collaborative ASEAN and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Activities: The United States is working to include non-APEC ASEAN members (Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos) in APEC capacity building activities in areas of mutual interest to both organizations so all ASEAN economies fully benefit from this work as ASEAN advances toward the AEC.

Political-Security Engagement

Enhancing Maritime Cooperation: As part of our ongoing efforts to strengthen U.S.ASEAN defense cooperation in areas including maritime security and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, Secretary of Defense Hagel hosted the ten ASEAN Defense Ministers at an informal meeting In Hawaii in April 2014.  In September 2014, the United States and the Philippines hosted the 2nd Expanded ASEAN Seafarer Training Counter Piracy workshop to exchange best practices on counter-piracy training, welfare, and safety issues in support of ASEAN seafarers.

Combating Piracy:  Also in September, the United States became the 20th contracting party to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), an international organization that serves as a platform for information exchange and for promoting and enhancing cooperation to combat piracy and armed robbery against ships in Asia.

Building ASEAN’s Cyber Confidence: The United States is helping to build ASEAN’s capacity to increase cybersecurity cooperation and reduce the risk of conflict during a cyber incident by supporting an ASEAN cybercrime workshop hosted by Singapore in 2014, jointly chairing with Singapore the ASEAN Regional Forum Seminar on Operationalizing Cyber Confidence Building Measures scheduled for 2015.

Combating Human and Wildlife Trafficking: The United States is working with ASEAN partners to combat human and wildlife trafficking.  In October 2014, the United States co-chaired with Burma a seminar on combating trafficking in persons, and is providing training for Heads of Anti-trafficking Specialist Units (HSUs) in crime scene management and victim-centric approaches in investigations. On wildlife trafficking, the United States worked with Myanmar to draft the East Asia Summit Declaration on wildlife Trafficking.

ASEAN Youth Volunteer Program: The United States and the National University of Malaysia entered into a multiyear agreement for USAID to provide support for the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Program (AVYP) to support ASEAN’s efforts to sponsor young volunteers to work throughout ASEAN on solutions to development challenges facing their communities.

Climate Change Cooperation: The United States and ASEAN announced the U.S.-ASEAN Joint Statement on Climate Change, demonstrating their commitment to a successful United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015.

Promoting Women and Children’s Rights: In April 2014, the United States and ASEAN launched the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurship Network in Vietnam. The project brings together the resources of USAID, the U.S. Department of State, the ASEAN Committee on Women, and the private sector to provide mentorship, training, and networking resources to women entrepreneurs.

U.S.-ASEAN Science and Technology (S&T) Fellow Program: The United States and the ASEAN Committee on Science and Technology (COST) launched the S&T Fellow Program in April 2014. Seven fellows worked on issues related to biodiversity, climate change, water management, health, and disaster risk reduction. The United States and ASEAN plan to expand the program in 2015.