Social, Environmental, Economic
Industrializing countries of South and Southeast Asia often become the exploiters of resources in neighboring countries with poor governance and systemic corruption. Laws against timber cutting in natural forests that were enacted in China, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Pakistan, and other countries with few remaining primary forest resources have not stopped deforestation. Instead, companies from these countries have moved into neighboring countries that are weakly or corruptly governed and still have exploitable timber.
As the process of deforestation proceeds, Western and Asian companies are looking further afield, to formerly remote parts of the islands of Borneo and New Guinea that are the new frontier for timber and extractive industries in Asia and Australasia.
Freshwater and ocean fisheries are likewise under relentless pressure from soaring demand and diminishing supplies. Even water becomes a global commodity when the dry countries of the Gulf invest in the production of wheat, rice, and other food crops in developing countries with water and irrigable land.
Efforts toward the environmentally sustainable development of natural resources
and regional cooperation on transboundary issues have been frustrated by at least four
obstacles, two relatively obvious and the other two less so.
The first is the excessive dependence on natural resource exploitation as the primary basis for economic development. This ensures the continuance of domestic conflict and instability, and also raises the stakes in regard to transboundary resources.
The second is the related lack of adequate incentives for regional cooperation so long as the dominant countries are unwilling to accept genuine multilateral approaches, or upstream countries or air polluters disregard the interests of their downstream or downwind neighbors.
The third obstacle has to do with the shift of the locus of development from multilateral bank financing to public-private projects in which developers promote projects on the basis of their individual profit potential rather than a broader national cost-benefit analysis. Leaving aside the possible effects of a global recession and financial crisis, this trend is likely to become worse before it becomes better because of the short-term thinking of cashpoor governments. One of the worst aspects of public-private partnerships is that they tend to privatize profits and socialize losses.
Finally, little progress toward sustainable and cooperative natural resource exploitation
is likely as long as the interests of affected local communities are represented by bureaucracies charged with ascertaining their wishes and speaking for them. Even when NGO, non governmental organizations, become involved in representing local stakeholder” interests, the process is normally perfunctory. As in many other areas of governance, democratic politics and representation produce better outcomes in domestic policy, and they better facilitate transboundary cooperation.