A row of men wearing suits watering plants at an event.
Environment delegations from Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam met at the fifth Greater Mekong Environment Ministers meeting in Chiang Mai. Photo: SEI Asia.

Environment ministers from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam met to approve their statement on joint cooperation in the region for the next five years. Dr. Wijarn Simachaya, Thailand’s Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE), recognized SUMERNET’s success during the gathering, highlighting its role in bringing together communities, government and development partners. “We learned a lot of lessons from communities through SUMERNET,” said Dr. Simachaya. “The information it provides can help us make sound policy that is grounded in science.”

Launched in 2005, SUMERNET brings together researchers working on sustainable development in the Mekong Region by supporting credible, collaborative research, leading independent discussion on key regional issues, and engaging with policy makers. SEI Asia Centre Director Niall O’Connor presented on lessons learned from SUMERNET in a capacity development session on day two of the meeting.

SUMERNET’s recently completed third phase, from 2014-2017, produced seven multi-country research projects focused on climate compatible development, ecosystem services for local development and sustainable regional economic integration. Hoang Thanh Long, a young researcher from Hue University in Vietnam, participated in a University-led project on the impacts of a Mekong economic corridor on local livelihoods and forest resources that compiled case studies from villages in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. “I gained valuable knowledge from these actors”, said Long. “My academic network has expanded not only in Vietnam but also with international academia in Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines. I have gotten better at writing policy briefings and press releases, as well as, more importantly, peer-reviewed articles.”

SUMERNET’s cross-border efforts have become critical in an increasingly interconnected Mekong Region, as echoed by Dr. Simachaya during the meeting. “Thailand is already cooperating with Lao PDR on temporary air quality monitoring, and we have sent a mobile air quality monitoring system to Myanmar,” he said. “We need more partnerships like these at the regional level, continental level, and global level to limit transboundary spin-offs of environmental impact.”

As the ministers chart a course of increased cooperation over the next five years, SUMERNET plans to strengthen its current work with governments, partners and communities in its next phase, entitled SUMERNET 4 All. Dr. Simachaya cited air pollution control, waste management and the impacts of rapid development on water and marine resources as just a few of the growing environmental challenges in the region.

SUMERNET 4 All has the potential to address these challenges through its focus on the cross-cutting theme of improving policies and practices in reducing water insecurities for vulnerable groups of women and men in the region. “Knowledge networks such as SUMERNET can play a critical role in improving environmental quality and climate resilience across the region through their multi-sector, multi-country approach,” stated Dr. Chayanis Krittasudthacheewa, SEI Asia Deputy Director and SUMERNET Programme Manager. “We look forward to SUMERNET enhancing its scope of connections, research and knowledge in local communities, and with our government and other partners in the Mekong as the Ministers step up cooperation over the next five years.”