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Myanmar, earlier known as Burma, is the second-largest country in Southeast Asia with a total land area of 652,790 km2 (2020) [1] . Myanmar shares international borders with the People’s Republic of China in the North and North East, Lao PDR in the East, Thailand in the South East, and Bangladesh and India in the West [2]. The physical geography of Myanmar is structurally complex and diverse: the country has a topography of steeper mountain ranges, upland plateaus and hill valleys in the eastern, northern and northwestern regions while the undulated central dry zone is surrounded by the western coastal range and lowland deltaic region in the lower part of the country, as well as a narrow coastal strip is formed further south adjoining with peninsular Thailand [2]. This diverse topography and climatic conditions create numerous different ecosystems and support an incredibly wide range of associated species. Moreover, the country has five major rivers namely, Ayeyawady, Chin-dwin, Sit-taung and Thanlwin and Kaladan [2].  

Myanmar has a tropical to sub-tropical monsoon climate with three dominant seasons: wet (from mid-May to mid-October), cold (from early November to late February) and dry (from March to mid-May). The climate varies across the ecological zones which is controlled mainly by altitude and the distance from the coast [2].

Myanmar is governed by a parliamentary system with a bicameral legislature. However, since February 2021, it has been undergoing a state of emergency, and the civilian government was overturned by the military.

Important National Context

The population of Myanmar is estimated at 55 million people (in 2021) and according to current projections, it will see its highest number in 2054 with 62.32 million people. Myanmar’s population is growing at a rate of about 0.67% per year; however, the growth rate is slowly decreasing, resulting in population growth expected to cease around 2054 and the population to start shrinking thereafter [3].

Despite being a predominantly rural country, Myanmar is rapidly urbanizing. Currently, 31.14% (in 2020) of the people live in cities [4]. With the current rate of urbanization, it is expected that over 7 million people will migrate from rural areas to cities by 2050 [5].  The increase in urban population has begun to put a severe strain on cities, particularly on Yangon, the biggest city of Myanmar, and the needs for affordable housing, infrastructure and services.  In the city, for example, only 33% of the population have access to piped water, traffic congestion is on the rise, as is solid waste, flooding and pollution. There is also a rise in the number of informal settlements as new residents cannot afford the existing supply of housing. If left unaddressed, these infrastructure needs will lead to further congestion, slums, pollution, and put a drag on opportunities for growth [5].

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Myanmar was worth 76.19 billion US dollars in 2020, representing 0.07% of the world economy [6]. In 2019, the GDP contribution from the processing and manufacturing sector in Myanmar was the highest, followed by trade and agriculture [7]. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, economic growth in Myanmar was projected to pick up to 6.3% in the fiscal year 2019/20 and 6.4% in 2020/21. Following the pandemic, Myanmar’s economy declined sharply with a reported growth rate of only 1.7% in the last fiscal year. The global shock and domestic efforts to contain the spread of the virus have had a substantial economic cost [8].

Contribution and participation in technology, innovation, ICT, and skills towards global sustainability are not prominent in Myanmar. The country also lacks advanced technical education and relevant technological infrastructure. According to the Technology and Innovation Report 2021, Myanmar ranks 121 out of 158 countries in the readiness for frontier technologies index (inidacting the capacity to use, adopt and adapt frontier technologies) [9]

Myanmar is  one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries [8],  being subjected to a wide variety of natural hazards; 50% of the total number of disasters in Myanmar are related to flood hazards, followed by storms (23%), earthquakes (15%), and mass movements (12%). In 2008, Myanmar suffered gravely from Cyclone Nargis, with reported casualties of more than 140,000 people. At least 2.4 million people were severely affected by this cyclone, which is noted among the greatest humanitarian crises caused by a natural disaster.

Myanmar has also suffered from frequent ethnic and religious conflicts, and it is particularly known for the Rohingya crisis. According to the UNHCR, some 94,000 people departed irregularly from the Bangladesh-Myanmar border over the course of 2014 and 2015 owing to large-scale ethnic conflicts between the Muslim minority living in western Myanmar and the Buddhist Rakhine community. Currently, the 880,000 refugees are mainly living in neighbouring Bangladesh, where the Government is currently moving them from existing refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar to Bhasan Char island in the Bay of Bengal.

Moreover, on the 1st of February 2021, the civilian government was overthrown in a military coup d'état, and the Tatmadaw's commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, became the head of state. Aung San Suu Kyi and several other senior members of her government were arrested by the military during the coup [10].

Environmental Governance

Myanmar is endowed with plenty of rich natural resources including arable land, minerals, natural gas, freshwater, marine resources and particularly forests. However, for a long period of time, natural resources were exploited without any environmental guidelines or regulations. Hence, Myanmar has consistently ranked low in the Resource Governance Index, a measure of transparency and accountability in the primary industrial sector involving mining, oil and allied industrial sectors [11].

Although the environment and natural resource sector have received very little attention in Myanmar’s economic transformation since 2011, the country has made remarkable progress in improving its environmental regulatory framework. Notable initiatives include launching its Environmental Conservation Law and Rules (2014), and the promulgation of Environmental Impact Assessment (2019) and Environmental Quality Guidelines [11].

Furthermore, according to the Myanmar Constitution (2008) Article 45: “the Union shall protect and conserve natural environment”. Additionally, Article 390(b) states that “every citizen has the duty to assist the Union in carrying out the following matters: (i) Preservation and safeguarding of cultural heritage, (ii) Environmental conservation, (iii) Striving for development of human resources and (iv) Protection and preservation of public property [12]This represents the highest commitment of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to responsible environmental management [12].

In general, the environmental performance of business operation is ensured through the enactment of several recent environmental laws and regulations including Environmental Conservation Law 2012, Environmental Conservation Rules 2014 and EIA Procedure 2015. Article 55 (a) of the Environmental Conservation Rules has laid out enforcement for project proponents to prepare and submit a standalone Environmental Management Plan for their existing businesses and seek an Environmental Compliance Certificate from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC). Furthermore, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) was implemented in 2014 and the formal Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) System was introduced in 2015. However, there were a number of businesses, which were already in place, and have been put under the EIA rules retroactively [12].

In 2019, Myanmar adopted a New Environmental Policy of Myanmar with the aim of mainstreaming environmental considerations into economic and social development. More specifically, the mission of the Policy is “to establish national environmental policy principles for guiding environmental protection and sustainable development and for mainstreaming environmental considerations into all policies, laws, regulations, plans, strategies, programmes and projects in Myanmar” [13]. The Government announced the vision for national environmental and climate change policies, which are intended to guide government decisions on environmental management and development planning, in line with Myanmar’s Sustainable Development Plan for 2018-2030.

The country’s economy has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. [A1] [AM2] Sustainable economic recovery will be crucial for long-term sustainability and resilient future. Currently, the Government is developing the Myanmar Economic Recovery and Reform Plan (MERRP) to ensure that post-COVID recovery will mainstream key opportunities to “build back better” by promoting the development of more efficient, effective, and environmentally sustainable technologies and planning approaches.

National context alignement with the EU Green Deal

The European Union (EU) signed, in 2020, a Contribution Agreement with UN-Habitat and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) of EUR 7.4 million to support the Government of Myanmar and to strengthen its effort in the fight against climate change through the 2nd phase of the Myanmar Climate Change Alliance (MCCA) programme [14].

The Global Climate Change Alliance Plus (GCCA+), an EU flagship initiative is helping the world's most vulnerable countries, group which includes Myanmar, to address climate change. The GCCA Action Programme has initially contributed with EUR 4 million in Myanmar to mainstream climate change into the Myanmar policy development and reform agenda with its 1st phase, during which UN-Habitat and UNEP have jointly provided technical assistance to the Government for the first phase of the MCCA[14].

With the aim to promote resource efficiency and sustainable consumption and production, the EU has also launched the SWITCH Asia programme in 2007. The programme is playing an important role in transitioning Myanmar towards a low carbon green and circular economy through various sustainable consumption and production interventions. The EU SWITCH-Asia grant funded projects named “Tha Bar Wa” and “SMART Myanmar” demonstrates how businesses have implemented sustainable production, resource efficiency and innovation, and mobilised behavioural change through a multi-stakeholder approach, positively affecting supply chains in both Myanmar and Europe.

The programme is extremely aligned to the EU Green Deal main aim to response to global challenges related to environment and climate change [15].

Key Environmental-Development Challenges

CLIMATE CHANGE

Myanmar is considered to be one of the most vulnerable countries in the world in terms of the impacts of climate change. The predicted rise in temperature in Myanmar is expected to have significant negative impacts on agricultural production and food security. Increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, sea level rise, increased temperature and increased variability of the southwest monsoon are anticipated to have adverse impacts on agriculture, fisheries, ecosystem services, human health and water resources. Already, more intense and frequent floods, cyclones and droughts have caused immense loss of life and damage to infrastructure and the economy, which puts Myanmar’s renowned biodiversity and natural resources under increasing pressure. For example, the 2008 Cyclone Nargis resulted in 138,000 fatalities. Climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather events and poses new threats from rising seas, food and water insecurity, and public health outbreaks. The majority of Burma’s population and principal economic activities are concentrated in coastal and low-lying zones vulnerable to sea level rise and increased storm surge. According to USAID, if sea level were to rise by a half meter, the shoreline of the Ayeyarwaddy Delta – the country’s main rice producer – would recede by 10 km. The activity would hardly harm Burma’s economy, largely dependent on natural resources (mining, forestry, fishing) [16].

 

BIODIVERSITY

Biodiversity, natural resources and ecosystem services in Myanmar provide the foundation for human sustenance and well-being. Myanmar is situated at the transition zone between three biogeographic regions: in the north, Indochina, the Indian sub-continent; and Eurasia; in the south, taninthayi forests cover the northern section of the transition between Indochina and Sundaic ecological zones. These transitional zones produce unique and diverse species assemblages. Myanmar contains almost 10% of global turtle and tortoise diversity, including seven endemic species [17].

However, globally important biodiversity areas have been cleared by activities like palm oil and rubber plantation concessions, logging and shifting agriculture. Hunting and poaching of wild animals for culinary and medicinal purposes in Myanmar, cross-border trade of wildlife by-products with China and weak enforcement over the control of illegal trade of wildlife pose threats to biodiversity and their habitat. Furthermore, political instability, public indifference, encroachment on forests, unsustainable harvesting and inadequate management of resources are some of the the key challenges faced by Myanmar’s biodiversity and natural resource managers.

The Red List Index, measuring changes in aggregate extinction risk across groups of species, is 0.798, with -8.0% change over last 25 available years.  This is based on genuine changes in the number of species in each category of extinction risk. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN 2015) is expressed as changes in an index ranging from 0 to 1.

 

FOREST

Forests constitute the dominant ecosystem in Myanmar, with 45 per cent of the country ecologically classified as forest (FAO 2015). Furthermore, as a result of a wide altitudinal range, with corresponding variation in climatic conditions, the country supports a range of forest types and vegetation zones [2]. Myanmar’s forests have provided livelihood opportunities for local communities for many decades but are now under enormous strain. Since the 1970s, the forests started degrading due to conflicts, land concessions, and illegal and unsustainable harvesting of timber for export, especially the highly sought-after Myanmar Teak. Myanmar’s report on drivers of deforestation to the UN-REDD Programme identified plantation agriculture as the major driver, responsible for about 1 million hectares of deforestation between 2002 and 2014.

Source

[1] The World Bank (2020). Land area (sq. km) – Myanmar. [Online] available at:https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.LND.TOTL.K2?locations=MM

[2]   Republic of the Union of Myanmar (2015).  National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2015-2020. [Online] available at: https://asean.chm-cbd.net/sites/acb/files/2020-04/mm-nbsap-v2-en.pdf

[3] World Population Review (2022). [Online] available at: Myanmar Population 2022 (Live).   https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/myanmar-population

[4] The World Bank (2020).  Urban population (% of total population) – Myanmar. [Online] available at: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.URB.TOTL.IN.ZS?locations=MM

[5] The World Bank (2019).  Myanmar’s Urbanization: Creating Opportunities for All.  [Online] available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/myanmar/publication/myanmars-urban…

[6] Trading Economics (2021). [Online] available at: Myanmar GDP. https://tradingeconomics.com/myanmar/gdp

[7] Statista (2019).  GDP contribution in Myanmar in 2019, by sector. [Online] available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1063582/myanmar-value-gdp-contribut…

[8] The World Bank (2021).  The World Bank In Myanmar – Overview. [Online] available at:   https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/myanmar/overview#1

 

[9]  UNCTAD (2021).  TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION REPORT 2021 - Catching technological waves. Innovation with equity. [Online] available at:https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/tir2020_en.pdf

[10] The Diplomatc (2021). Strangio S.  Protests, Anger Spreading Rapidly in the Wake of Myanmar Coup. [Online] available at: https://thediplomat.com/2021/02/protests-anger-spreading-rapidly-in-the…

[11] Conflict and Environment Observatory (2021).  What Myanmar’s coup could mean for its environment and natural resources. [Online] available at: https://ceobs.org/what-myanmars-coup-could-mean-for-its-environment-and-natural-resources/

[12] DICA, The Republic of the Union of Myanmar, Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations (MIFER).  ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATION.  [Online] available at: https://www.dica.gov.mm/en/environmental-regulation

 

[13] UNDP Myanmar (2019). National Environmental Policy of Myanmar.

[14] UN Habitat (2020).  Myanmar Climate Change Alliance to start 2nd Phase of the Programme. [Online] available at: https://unhabitat.org.mm/news/myanmar-climate-change-alliance-to-start-…

[15] SwitchAsia, European Commission (2021).  SWITCH-Asia Contributions to the EU Green Deal. [Online] available at:  http://www.switch-asia.eu/resource/switch-asia-contributions-to-the-eu-…

[16] USAID (2017). Climate Change Risk Profile – BURMA. [Online] available at:  https://www.climatelinks.org/resources/climate-risk-profile-burma

[17] Open Development (2020). Myanmar – Forests and Forestry