The last week of June was also the last week of the semester, and this was not a moment too soon for many of us. There was, however, still time to squeeze in one more lecture series from a top academic – and it was certainly a case of saving the best until last! Despite the distractions of last-minute essay writing, clear blue skies, and World Cup football-induced hangovers, a committed group of students and staff took the opportunity to participate in a series of workshops and lectures from Prof. M Shamsul Haque.
Prof Haque hails from of the Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore, and he is also our very own Adjunct Chair Professor of the College of Social Sciences here at NCCU. He is a highly respected and distinguished scholar having published quite a number of papers as well as editing a number of SSCI journals. He is also the recipient of the Fred W. Riggs Award for Lifetime Scholarly Achievement from ASPA
The title of his second public lecture was on Thursday 28th June and was on the theme of ‘Achieving Sustainable Development in South-east Asia: Limits and Challenges.’ His lecture discussed key trends in sustainable development and the difficulties that have arisen in dealing with them in South-east Asia over recent decades.
The term ‘sustainable development’ was first coined in the late 1980s and has been defined in many ways, but the most frequently quoted definition is from the Brundtland Report: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Prof. Haque’s lecture began with an outline of the proliferation of conventions, protocols, laws and institutions that have sprung up to try to achieve sustainable development goals in South-east Asia. These have taken place at the international level with the ratification of UN protocols, such as those agreed upon on Kyoto and Paris. There have also been regional initiatives through ASEAN agreements, as well as initiatives at the national and local levels.
Despite these agreements and initiatives, however, there is the paradox of continued increasing environmental degradation taking place in South-east Asia. Examples include air and water pollution, rising carbon emissions, deforestation and bio-diversity loss. These can be explained through a combination of internal and external factors such as population growth, commitment to the ideology of economic growth, as well as the increase in urbanisation seen across South-east Asia. Having explained the situation as it currently stands, Prof. Haque led a lively group discussion of the potential remedies and alternatives. A number of important issues were raised by students and staff, such as the role of technology, accountability of the private sector, and the institutional structure of the state in turning sustainable development goals into reality.
It was certainly a very interesting and thought-provoking lecture on an issue that impacts the lives of billions. Both staff and students alike left the lecture with a deeper appreciation of the difficulties that the countries of South-east Asia face in achieving their sustainable development goals.