Greenpeace Southeast Asia visited Yangon, Myanmar between 3-6 May 2013 for two exciting activities – co-hosting a Climate Changes Solutions roundtable discussion and a meeting with Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Von Hernandez, Executive Director at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in a meeting last May 6th, 2013 where the latter shared her commitment to legislative movement on energy and climate change and highlighted the need for environmentally sustainable development. © Andrew Back / Greenpeace

Shwedagon Pagoda shines at the center of Yangon - reflecting natural light in the daytime under a sun so hot it is sometimes hard to breathe.

During the early evening hours, this iconic pagoda becomes a community hub, where faithful worshippers congregate, while taking advantage of the cooling breeze. Bathed in golden light, the pagoda is an awe-inspiring sight, speaking volumes about the excitement and promise that the future now holds for a country and its people who have just started to get re-acquainted with the air of freedom.

Will Myanmar be a lab of green development opportunities?

As the last economic and resource frontier of Southeast Asia, Myanmar is in a unique and advantageous position. With the promise of economic growth fuelled by greater foreign investments, the country now finds itself at the crossroads, confronted with two choices: a path that leads to rapid and conventional growth at great expense to the environment and the well-being of its people, or a path that takes great care in ensuring that the environment is protected, while meeting the essential requirements of development. Unlike other countries that have plowed ahead blindly, Myanmar has a golden opportunity to leapfrog the destructive course that other countries have taken and truly lead a green development revolution.

Leaders of Myanmar's ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, major opposition National League for Democracy and ethnic communities' party Arakan League for Democracy; senior officers of four government departments in agriculture, meteorology, environmental conservation, and forests; climate expert Tun Lwin, popular activist U Ohn, and representatives of civil society groups Oxfam, Food Security Working Group, EcoDev, and Spectrum gathered in a rare forum led by international environmentalist group Greenpeace Southeast Asia to find climate solutions together at Royal Park Hotel in Yangon, 04 May 2013. © Andrew Back / Greenpeace

This message resonated at the Roundtable Discussion that Greenpeace co-organized together with our local partners - the Myanmar Climate Change Watch, and Spectrum last May 4. At the same meeting, government representatives and experts shared information about recent temperature spikes and recent episodes of abnormal weather phenomenon experienced across the country. The gathering is probably one of the rare instances in the country when civil society, government agencies and political parties came together to tackle a common challenge. Transcending political divides and differences that they’ve grown accustomed to, the participants reflected on the catastrophic consequences that climate change could bring to this nation, considered one of the most vulnerable yet least prepared to deal with debilitating impacts of global warming. Their terrifying encounter with cyclone Nargis in 2008 still reverberates loudly in the national psyche.

The participants knew that the climate crisis requires solutions that are global and holistic. Challenging their own limitations, forum participants agreed on a list of recommendations, which ought to bring shame to those countries historically responsible for this crisis.

Towards the end of the forum, I shared Greenpeace’s framework of solutions to the climate crisis – zero deforestation and energy revolution. Indeed these solutions-oriented strategies would also help protect Myanmar’s dwindling forests and address widespread energy poverty across the country. We also shared the call for ASEAN to ensure a Fair, Ambitious and Binding Global Climate Deal (A-FAB), of more active and transparent participation of ASEAN at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Myanmar needs to prioritise clean, green development in both policy and practice

Von Hernandez, Executive Director for Greenpeace Southeast Asia gives his presentation on Climate change solutions during the round table discussion at Royal Park Hotel in Yangon, 04 May 2013. ©Andrew Back / Greenpeace

Another highlight of our trip, was the meeting we had with human rights champion and Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at the headquarters of the National League for Democracy. At that meeting, I was particularly enthralled by her commitment to lead and pursue a non-partisan legislative agenda on environmental issues. To me, this reflected a mature and sophisticated understanding on her part that the country’s environmental challenges transcend political boundaries, even those created by years of political persecution.

We responded to this with an offer to share our information, our expertise, and our solutions with Myanmar’s policy makers, and continue the collaboration we have started with our local partners.

Exciting and challenging – these are the words that capture the mood of a nation now in the midst of a great transition.

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