Protecting biodiversity to help ASEAN economies

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 06 2010 09:12 PM | Updated as of Oct 07 2010 05:12 AM

MANILA  - Southeast Asian nations should encourage businesses to protect the region's endangered plants and
animals by showing profit can be made from biodiversity, experts said Wednesday.

Between 30-40 percent of all animal and plant species in the region could soon be extinct without action to protect them, said Rodrigo Fuentes of the think tank Southest Asian Nations (ASEAN) Centre for Biodiversity.

"You've got to involve the private sector and you've got to create a market mechanism that will encourage business to go into that," Fuentes said at an ASEAN environment forum in Manila.

ASEAN groups the economies of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, a market of about half a billion people.

It covers only three percent of the world's surface but has 20 percent of all its plant and animal species.

Govindan Parayil, a director of the Tokyo-based United Nations University, said there was profit to be made in "bio-prospecting," where new drugs, foods or materials can be produced from local wildlife.

However he said special measures must be taken to ensure that local communities also profit from any scientific discoveries made.

Private sector inputs in "green growth" industries like non-conventional energy could also boost ASEAN's manufacturing sector, Parayil added.

"We usually think business will not listen because this not a very profitable area to get into (but) there are great opportunities here for business in green growth," Paraynil said.

Raman Letchumanan, head of the ASEAN secretariat's environment division, called for wider use of "eco-labelling," as this encourages consumers to buy such products.

Eco-labelling, where products get a special tag after meeting high environmental standards, is already being done in Singapore and parts of Indonesia and Thailand, Letchumanan added.

Businesses must also be convinced to adapt practices that can cut costs through more efficient use of energy and raw materials, the experts said.

The experts warned that ASEAN could not copy the high-consumption model of the United States without suffering serious environmental damage.