Hope for a Greener World
Emeritus Prof Koh Kheng Lian did NUS
and Singapore proud when it was announced that she had been awarded the
internationally reputed Elizabeth Haub Prize for Environmental Law in 2012. The
award ceremony, held a year later in last November, has Emeritus Prof Koh
receiving the prize for her contributions to the development of the field in
Singapore and the Asean region.
Established in 1973 in honour of Mrs Elizabeth Haub, a devoted supporter of
environmental protection, the Prize is generally considered as the most
prestigious and renowned international distinction that can be conferred upon an
environmental lawyer. An international jury consisting of six prominent
environmental lawyers has annually awarded the prize to some of the world’s most
leading environmental law specialists for their achievements in the field of
international environmental law.
Emeritus Prof Koh with Mrs Helga Haub, President of the Board of Trustees of the
Elizabeth Haub Foundation for Environmental Policy and Law. Portrait of Mrs
Elizabeth Haub is in the background.
Held from 14 to 16 November, 2013, in Murnau, Germany, the award ceremony was
followed by the “3rd International Symposium of Laureates of the Elizabeth Haub
Prizes”. Emeritus Prof Koh presented her paper titled “ASEAN Cultural Heritage
as a Mechanism in Forging an ASEAN Identity for the Realization of an ASEAN
Community 2015: An Impossible Dream?”.
Speaking at the ceremony, Emeritus Prof Koh said: “In my environmental law
voyage, what was so exciting was that I started from zero and often without a
compass! All I had at the beginning of my voyage and along the way was
inspiration, support and encouragement from many Elizabeth Haub Laureates – to
mention three in particular in alphabetical order - Parvez Hassan, Tommy Koh and
Nick Robinson. My research on Singapore and ASEAN coincided with the period of
their significant developments in environmental law.”
Driven by her passion for the environment, LawLink spoke to Emeritus Prof Koh to
share with us her vision for environmental development.
Emeritus Prof Koh with laureates from previous years.
LawLink: What are your hopes for the environment in the near future?
Emeritus Prof Koh: If we look at how the environment today is being ravaged by
human-induced climate change, pollution, destruction and degradation of
ecosystems of flora and fauna, it would seem to be a contradiction to speak
about hope for the environment. This is especially so because global cooperation
does not seem to be in sight or is limping as witnessed by the climate change
negotiations and other attempts to green the environment.
Yet, the numerous voices that we hear from the people reverberating throughout
the world and clamouring for a better environmental future and for environmental
justice, give us a reason to hope. Humanity is at a crossroads, and the UN Earth
Charter 2000 tells us to have a shared vision of basic values to provide for an
ethical foundation for the emerging world community. It calls for hope to affirm
the following interdependent principles of respect for earth and life; care for
the community of life with understanding, compassion, and love; build democratic
societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful; secure
Earth's bounty and beauty for present and future generations.
There is a growing number around the world that abide by these principles,
despite recalcitrants. There is also an ever growing movement of NGOs, CSOs and
others, particularly among the people of many nations to demand for a quality of
life that can endure for present and future generations. Even as new and
emerging environmental issues confront us, such as climate change in all its
ferocity as witnessed by super typhoon Haiyan, the Arctic vortex, heatwaves,
droughts and with them , biodiversity loss, water and food security, zoonotic
diseases, the onward march of the Anthropocene - innovations (smart cities,
smart agriculture), new technology, new knowledge, new management (for example,
India is testing out drones to monitor tigers in an attempt to counter the
poaching of tigers) - all give hope to bring about a more liveable environment
and to stamp the tide of or 'alleviate’ environmental disasters.
If humanity has no hope, it will die. The exponential growth of environmental
activism and some activists even die for their cause, give us reason to hope as
nothing is more powerful than the trajectory of people who are now more than
ever before experiencing the realities of typhoons, hurricanes, floods,
snowstorms, droughts, land grabbing, climatic migration, food, and water
security, with more to come. As much as the full impact is being felt, so does
the hope to overcome them. Yes, there is reason to be hopeful for the
environment – and for humanity and nature to live in harmony.
LawLink: What are some of the environmental developments that we can expect
Emeritus Prof Koh: This question calls for looking into the crystal ball and
predicting accurately. My vision is not very clear as to what the crystal ball
tells us. That said, there are signs and emerging developments that give us some
indications of what we can, or may expect.
I shall focus on some areas in ASEAN and the global context.
Myanmar has taken on the Chair of ASEAN for 2014. In the first of its ASEAN
Foreign Ministers’ meetings as Chair, the theme is “Moving Forward in Unity
towards a Peaceful and Prosperous Community”. ASEAN is developing an ASEAN
Community by 2015 and beyond. While ASEAN is very unlikely to fully establish an
ASEAN Community by this date, the process will be accelerated particularly
through some of the “soft power” measures - going “local” and the
“people-to-people” approach. Such measures include promoting ASEAN cultural
heritage, sports activities, and greater connectivity in communication - all
these can work towards an ASEAN identity in developing an ‘ASEAN Community’.
In transnational crimes, it can be envisaged that in illegal trade in endangered
species (under CITES) , ASEAN will play a more critical role in cross-border
cooperation in criminal law, together with other areas of transnational crimes
such as drug trafficking. ASEAN is likely to adopt the “whole–of-the–world”
approach, by invoking the “non-traditional-security” approach under “ASEAN
Pillar I” for enhanced cooperation to combat such transnational crimes.
In disaster management, ASEAN can also be expected to be more effective and to
adopt a similar “whole-of-the-world” approach, and also under the tripartite
Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) between the ASEAN Secretariat on the one hand,
and the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNDISDR)
and the World Bank on the other.
On the global front, reluctant as most industrialised countries are of
mainstreaming climatic migration, into the climate change negotiations, and at
other platforms this issue cannot be ignored indefinitely. The 20th UNFCCC COP
meeting to be held in Paris 2015 will see more cooperation from the South –
South to further negotiate on “loss and damage” issue as a separate issue (at
least in some areas) from the adaptation framework, now embodied in the Warsaw
international mechanism for loss and damage associated with climate change
impacts. The outcome of the Paris COP meeting in 2015 may see a multi- level
climate change governance system emerging, as it is not expected that the North
and South will agree on a new Kyoto Protocol.
The discourse on emerging environmental notions such as eco-cide, human
security, resilience, environmental justice, to mention a few will continue to
be further developed by environmental experts and will impact on some current
traditional notions and help operationalise environmental frameworks. We are
witnessing a wide range of topics in research from scientists, environmental
legal experts and those from different disciplines. This exponential growth in
environmental research is expected to continue. As knowledge is built, there may
be a closing of gap between the current conflict of values between the North and
South and this may lead to shared values and enhanced international