BIMP-EAGA takes the green path to COVID-19 recovery

With the countdown to net zero getting louder and the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continuing to affect their economies, BIMP-EAGA countries are making sure their recovery is sustainable and resilient against future shocks.

All four member countries are pursuing climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives. Brunei Darussalam has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% relative to business-as-usual levels by 2030. Indonesia has pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2060 or sooner. Malaysia has committed to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 versus a 2005 baseline. The Philippines has vowed to reduce emissions by 75% by 2030.

Under the BIMP-EAGA Vision 2025, the countries have committed to move away from reliance on oil and are keen to tap into domestic sources of renewable energy.

At the recent COP26 climate talks, Indonesia and the Philippines took their climate commitments a step further. They announced that they will retire existing coal-fired power plants on an accelerated schedule and replace them with clean energy with the help of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

At the BIMP-EAGA leaders’ summit on 28 October, the countries vowed to “continue pursuing green recovery” to ensure a more sustainable and resilient subregion. Due to the pandemic, the BIMP-EAGA economy contracted by 3.5% to $322.8 billion in 2020 versus a 6.9% expansion before the crisis.

What is a green recovery?

In a recent report, ADB said a green recovery entails investing in environmentally sustainable development in agriculture, oceans, urban and transport, and waste management. Adopting such measures are seen to reduce the risk of future pandemics, help countries mitigate and adapt to the impact of climate change, create jobs, increase competitiveness, and meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

Protecting the environment is important to the subregion, which is home to ecologically rich areas. The Heart of Borneo, which stretches across Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, is the largest contiguous forest area remaining in Southeast Asia. The Sulu–Sulawesi Seas is a highly biodiverse region of the Coral Triangle—the center of the world’s highest concentration of marine biodiversity, covering 5.7 million square kilometers of tropical marine waters of six countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines.

The ADB report says implementing a green recovery will require mainstreaming environmental resilience in policy making, undertaking policy interventions in green opportunities, and identifying sources of finance for green growth.

ASEAN recently adopted a post-pandemic economic recovery framework that entails promoting green growth measures, such as investing in infrastructure that support energy efficiency and decarbonization.

Greening the subregion

BIMP-EAGA’s green recovery initiatives include making cities livable, bolstering ecotourism, ensuring small businesses adopt clean manufacturing practices, and shifting to a circular economy model.

The BIMP-EAGA Green Cities Initiative builds smart, green, and livable cities. It seeks to enhance the capacity of city officials on integrated planning and management of urban infrastructure. Green City Action Plans (GCAP) have been developed for Kendari in Indonesia and Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia. A similar plan is being developed for General Santos City in the Philippines. There are also plans to include Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan and Pontianak in Indonesia in the green cities network.

The GCAP details specific and localized plans for green development and investment, and covers urban management and institutional aspects, capacity development, and financing, as well as performance monitoring indicators.

Tomohon in Indonesia, Kota Kinabalu, and General Santos are also part of a similar ASEAN initiative, the ASEAN Sustainable Urban Strategy program.


As part of efforts to adopt measures aligned with climate change adaptation and mitigation, BIMP-EAGA continues to push ecotourism, which is seen to contribute toward climate resilience in critical ecosystems.

There are efforts to revise ecotourism guidelines to include a section on risk management and plans to train community guides on sustainable tourism.

BIMP-EAGA has developed ecotourism sites over the years and came up with case studies that  showcase how to manage nature, culture, and heritage while providing livelihood to local communities.

At the summit, leaders welcomed initiatives with local communities to adopt and replicate best practices on sustainable ecotourism as well as agriculture and fisheries to foster environmental protection and cooperation.

In the Philippines, mangrove ecotourism is being developed in Palawan and in Siargao and Baliangao in Mindanao. Authorities are also working to declare the Turtle Island Heritage Protected Area as an ASEAN Heritage Park or Protected Area.

Green manufacturing

During their recent meeting, BIMP-EAGA ministers said ensuring small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are moving toward green manufacturing remains a priority. SMEs account for more than 90% of businesses in the subregion. The target is to have at least 200 SMEs adopt green technologies by 2025.

Green manufacturing is a way of producing goods that uses resources, including energy, efficiently and sustainably and reduces wastes. A 2019 ADB study says “greening” businesses entails companies taking active measures to change their products or processes to be more environmentally sustainable. These could include sustainable sourcing of raw materials, conserving energy and shifting to renewables, and developing eco-friendly products and services.

Initiatives include webinars and workshops to promote sustainable manufacturing practices and technologies. Brunei is also planning to establish a baseline data and criteria on clean and green production practices.

Circular economy

Member countries are moving toward the circular economy model, which is based on the idea of reusing and recycling products and materials, so no waste goes to landfills. For many countries, plastic waste is a big problem. A World Bank study says a total of $80 billion to $120 billion worth of plastic packaging is lost from the global economy each year due to lack of recycling or poor recycling practices.

BIMP-EAGA counties are stepping up. Indonesia is developing a national strategy to transition to a circular economy. Malaysia has developed a roadmap to phase out single-use plastics. The Philippine government is pushing for the passage of a bill banning single-use plastics and for replacing them with environment-friendly substitutes.

The World Bank study says if all the plastic wastes in Malaysia and the Philippines were to be recycled into valuable products, the total material value that could be unlocked would equal $1.3 billion and $1.1 billion per year, respectively.

In October, ASEAN adopted a framework for circular economy initiatives in Southeast Asia. It sets the strategic priorities for regional cooperation, which include facilitating the trade of circular products and services among member-countries.


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