Could Myanmar (Burma) have Southeast Asia's first 'green president'?
President Thein Sein still has a long way to go in assuring citizens, investors, and international donors that the country is on the right track, but with the right development assistance, Myanmar has the chance to succeed in sustainable development where many of its neighbors have failed.
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This July, after President Obama eased sanctions on Myanmar to promote responsible investment there by US firms, President Thein Sein subsequently repeated to the British newspaper, The Financial Times, “we don’t want to have foreign or any investment in this country that will be damaging to the natural environment.” In a meeting later that month with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Thein Sein committed Myanmar to becoming a signatory to the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI). The initiative's member companies and countries agree to implement a global standard for transparent about revenue from natural resources.Skip to next paragraph
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A steady stream of US and European politicians are now visiting Myanmar to observe the changes taking place first-hand and meet with Aung San Suu Kyi. And very soon, if political reform continues to move at its current pace, billions of dollars – both in aid funds and private investment – will start to flow.
With millions of people wholly dependent upon the country’s natural resource base, the environment sector is at the very heart of Myanmar’s future. The international community – and particularly key development partners like the United States Agency for International Development, the United Nations, and the World Bank – has an unprecedented opportunity to support and build a Myanmar-led process for sustainable development of the country’s vast natural resources.
The role of civil society organizations in supporting this vision will be critical. For decades, national and international civil society organizations with an environmental focus have been among the strongest advocates for environmental conservation in the country and have a wealth of experience that should be capitalized upon. With the recent reforms, after decades of oppression they and other civil society groups are finding their voices, growing in influence, and finding receptive audiences within government.
Of course, Thein Sein still has a long way to go in assuring citizens, investors, and international donors that the country is on the right track. but with the right development assistance, applied strategically, Myanmar has the chance to succeed in sustainable development where many of its Southeast Asian neighbors have failed. It could become a regional model for linking environmental sustainability and economic growth.
Perhaps, then, Thein Sein could become Southeast Asia’s first true “green president.” Far-fetched? Maybe. But who would have thought we would see Aung San Suu Kyi democratically elected to parliament and become the chair of a parliamentary committee to monitor and help implement the rule of law?