Myanmar issues climate change policies as World Bank sounds environment alarm

Mogok Environmental damaged mining in in Mogok, north of Mandalay.--(Photo by Ye Aung THU / AFP)

19 June 19 - Source: National Multimedia - IN RESPONSE to emerging environmental issues caused by heavy reliance on natural resources, Myanmar has come up with new policies on national environment and climate change as well as a master plan, Kyaw Zaw, deputy permanent secretary at the natural and environmental conservation ministry, said.

The official told The Nation on Tuesday that Myanmar's efforts in conserving the environment will become more effective once the new policies and guidelines are in place.

"In the past, some of our operations were not as effective as expected because we lacked concrete policy framework and rules," he said. "Our president recently announced the national environment policy and the climate-change master plan, with support from the United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP] and other development partners. We are now implementing these policies to ensure we protect our environment well."

Kyaw Zaw said the policies would be implemented through short- and long-term development plans. Also, he said, investment will be made in the implementation of policies in cooperation with development partners.

President Win Myint announced the launch of the policies on June 5, World Environment Day. He said the aim was to ensure a clean environment with healthy, functioning ecosystems as well as a carbon-resilient, low-carbon society. He also urged investment in renewable energy.

Kyaw Zaw, meanwhile, stressed on the need to cooperate with the private sector, urging businesses to follow the environment ministry's instructions to create a sustainable society.

"Whenever a development project is implemented, there can be adverse impacts – both socially and physically. As a regulator, we are trying to minimise such impacts," he said.

On Monday, the environment ministry held talks with World Bank Myanmar to foster cooperation in conservation work. The discussion focused on investment issues, development and capacity building works in prioritised regions, translating newly-prepared instructions into ethnic languages, effective cooperation with locals, drawing up programmes for joint funding to implement waste-management strategy, cooperation with respective states and regions to manage tourism-related wastes.

On Tuesday, the World Bank released the Myanmar Country Environmental Analysis, which said the country's ecosystems are under tremendous pressure. The report draws on a comprehensive analysis of Myanmar's environment and natural resource challenges and also identifies strategic recommendations to address causes behind the degradation as well as to promote environmental management, investment and expenditure practices.

"Serious environmental issues are emerging, underlying the importance of transparent and robust environmental impact assessment system. Air quality is getting increasingly compromised, and urban waste brings new and increasing environmental health issues. Rapid growth in Myanmar generates additional pressures linked to solid waste generation," the report says.

Yet, the international community is confident that Myanmar will overcome these challenges.

Dechen Tsering, UNEP director for Asia-Pacific, said these new policies have equipped Myanmar to pursue sustainable development and mobilise resources to address climate change.

Peter Batchelor, resident representative of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), also lauded the authorities for their commitment to a sustainable development agenda, and pledged to help in their implementation.

Bijay Karmacharya, country programme manager of UN-Habitat, said Myanmar was ready for concerted actions to combat the challenges of climate change.

"With the climate change policy, strategy and master plans in place, it is now time for implementation," he said.

Last week, some corporates in Myanmar also pledged to support the government's new policies by launching initiatives on World Environment Day. Among them is an initiative by Coca-Cola Foundation and Bringing Markets that will work closely with more than 100 businesses in the recycling value chain to connect them to growth opportunities and build their capacity. The initiative will utilise data collected from businesses in Yangon, Mandalay and Mawlamyine to design training programmes that will address the needs of small and medium enterprises.

"By partnering with those directly involved in the recycling value chain, we will be able to provide insights and training that create lasting change throughout the entire value chain, from consumers to recycling processors," said Karen Hsu, Building Markets' country director for Myanmar.

Last week, a European Union delegation in Myanmar launched a public exhibition to raise awareness of the sources of air pollution and steps that can be taken to address them. According to the World Health Organisation, approximately 7 million people worldwide die prematurely from air pollution each year, with 4 million deaths occurring in Asia-Pacific. In Myanmar, air pollution causes some 22,000 deaths annually.

The World Environment Index ranked Myanmar among the 15 most-polluted countries in the world, with air pollution peaking every year from January to April. Nearly 80 per cent of people in Myanmar use wood to cook and kerosene to light their homes.

This contributes significantly to indoor air pollution and affects the health of women and children. Meanwhile, toxic fumes from large-scale farming and burning of waste in rural landfills are the biggest causes of outdoor air pollution nationwide.

EU Ambassador Kristian Schmidt said Myanmar could beat air pollution by coming together as a community.

"We all breathe the same air. If it is polluted, we are all exposed to numerous health risks. The good news is that air pollution is preventable," he said.

"It starts with awareness; with having clean air laws and standards; with the adoption of green technologies; and more importantly, with the contribution of each and every individual towards an air pollution-free world."

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