The secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Le Luong Minh, has urged the bloc's policymakers and businesses to pro-actively take decisions and actions to tackle challenges to sustainable development.

With just a year left for the formation of the ASEAN Community there is an urgent need to understand the parameters of sustainability and resilience needed to take on the defining and life-changing issues of our time such as climate change, water scarcity, and food and energy concerns, he said.

Minh addressed the 2014 ASEAN Sustainable Development Symposium held on November 14 in Bangkok by Thai conglomerate SCG, which has been named by the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes as the world's top sustainable development model in the construction materials industry every year since 2011.

The secretary-general said the event was a key platform for sharing practical ideas and successful corporate practices to expand the opportunities for sustainable development of the region.

"As we forge ahead with our regional economic integration efforts, we also have to ensure the judicious use of our rich natural resources which sustain vital life support systems, fostering economic growth without degrading the natural environment.

"As a people-centred ASEAN Community, we also need to meet the needs of nearly 625 million ASEAN people who are rapidly moving up the human development ladder, while enhancing their resilience and social protection systems against natural and man-made disasters."

Though the region had rich natural resources, over the years they resources have been under increasing threat, he said.

Fast growing populations and changing demographics and rapid economic growth combined with the existing bloc-wide social disparities had exerted daunting pressures and brought various common environmental issues such as air, water, and land pollution, urban environmental degradation, trans-boundary haze, and depletion of natural resources, particularly biological diversity, he said.

It had also led to increased consumption of resources and generation of waste, resulting in unsustainable development, and ASEAN, like others, is therefore facing an enormous challenge in keeping a delicate balance of environmental sustainability and economic development, he warned.

"The ASEAN Vision 2020 calls for a clean and green ASEAN with fully established mechanisms to ensure the protection of the environment, sustainability of natural resources, and high quality of life of people in the region."

He admitted that the path to a green ASEAN community had not been and was not going to be smooth.

The globalising world, which was driven by rapid technological progress, intense economic competition, and the unsustainable consumption of natural resources was a reality that ASEAN had to face, he said.

"Next year and in the years to come ASEAN would have to confront and address these challenges, and it is important that it strives to find a balance between economic development and sustainable environment that meet the current and future needs.

"We hope that through our efforts to build a politically cohesive, economically integrated and socially responsible, people-centred and people-oriented ASEAN Community, we are also building a community not only for the present but future generations of ASEAN peoples," he added.

Kan Trakulkoon, president and CEO of SCG, said the symposium aimed to create a network of sustainability which should lead to real ‘sustainable development' throughout the entire process of businesses.

"It is evident that the world population is set to increase to over 9,000 million within the next 35 years whereas natural resources have become ever so limited. Sustainable development is then not merely a choice, but a ‘Must Have Agenda' for all businesses that requires thorough planning and tangible scheming so that we can maintain our business growth and at the same time sustain our limited natural resources and make a good balanced living", the president and CEO of SCG said.

"We need to reform by working together. And that does not only mean sharing information, joining each other's corporate social responsibility projects, or passing the torch and execute, but also whole-heartedly collaborating with a thorough strategic plan that will become a true force for real sustainability throughout ASEAN in future", added Kan Trakulkoon

The business sector is the real player that could create hope for change due to its flexibility, drivability, speed, and ability to extend throughout the supply chain.

Yvo de Boer, director general of the Seoul-headquartered international Global Green Growth Institute, noted that many developing countries had started formulating policy frameworks that prescribed balanced growth for long-term sustainability, but the speed with which those policies were translated into reality on the ground simply couldn't keep up with the economic advance.-VNA