Sustainable Transboundary Governance of the Environmental Commons in Southeast Asia

Sharon Ong's picture
Call for Papers
June 15, 2018
Subject Fields: 
Southeast Asian History / Studies, Environmental History / Studies

Organised by the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore; supported by SSRC grant on Sustainable Governance of Transboundary Environmental Commons in Southeast Asia (MOE2016-SSRTG-068), and in collaboration with the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre.

Economic integration and resource interdependencies in a rapidly urbanising and increasingly middle class Southeast Asia are bringing to the political fore questions about how to sustainably govern common pool resources. As the development interests of Southeast Asian countries and their transnational partners, together with the political cultures that characterize ASEAN, come into growing tension with environmental agendas, the problem of transboundary environmental governance is being heightened by climatic instability and ever more frequent and costly disasters that cannot be neatly contained within nation-states, such as atmospheric pollution (regionally known as “haze”), wildfires, droughts and floods. These trends highlight both the shortcomings of existing transboundary environmental governance regimes and the “ASEAN way”, bringing attention to the need to forge more comprehensive and inclusive pathways to planning, managing and implementing policies for sustainable development within and beyond Southeast Asia.

This multi-disciplinary workshop will explore key issues in sustainable development with particular reference to the ecological commons in Southeast Asia from a transboundary governance perspective. Here, we treat questions of access to environmental resources as intrinsically transboundary in the current era of globalization, economic integration, and global climate change that is producing socioecological transformations across multiple scales. Posing sustainable development of the transboundary commons as a problem of environmental governance reflects our premise that multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral approaches are required to deal with these shared and overlapping issues that affect entire societies in the rapidly changing region of Southeast Asia. As such, inclusive and comprehensive governance strategies are required, as opposed to top-down or expert-driven managerial solutions. It is now widely understood that the devastating health and socioeconomic impacts wrought by transboundary pollution of the atmospheric commons of Southeast Asia through seasonal biomass burning require ongoing cooperative efforts between governments, multinational companies, financial institutions, activists and communities if the haze problem is to find any meaningful redress in the longer term. Decisions on hydropower dam developments in the riparian regions of continental Southeast Asia similarly require collaborative efforts among multiple stakeholders to stem the degradation of aquatic habitats and protect the complex array of livelihoods that depend upon them within and between countries.

This event combines the richness of empirical research with theoretical insights into how to conceptualise and govern the transboundary environmental commons. Our conceptual invocation of the environmental commons signals our recognition that common pool resources defy territorial enclosure within individual countries, flowing as they do between administrative borders for use by diverse collectives of users. The open access nature of the transboundary commons renders such resources vulnerable to unrestrained exploitation in the absence of enforceable international legal instruments. Yet the transboundary commons is also emerging as a political space for giving voice to progressive approaches to conservation efforts and sustainable development agendas. As transboundary networks of cooperation bring together people across jurisdictional divides in Southeast Asia, new opportunities are opening to build more effective environmental governance regimes in the service of paving more resilient and sustainable regional futures.

We invite the submission of papers from beginning and established scholars, policymakers, activists and development practitioners to explore these issues in governing the transboundary environmental commons of Southeast Asia. We encourage applicants to consider empirical case studies and theories in comparative Southeast Asian contexts and to draw lessons that can be learned from Southeast Asia for transboundary governance regimes elsewhere in the world. Questions that will guide the workshop proceedings to speak to related themes across disciplinary and geographical boundaries include:

  • What proximate and underlying factors are driving the unsustainable use of transboundary common pool resources in Southeast Asia, how are the factors linked through time and across scales, and in what ways are they changing?
  • What sorts of innovations in transboundary governance are emerging in Southeast Asia in response to shared environmental problems and development interests, and how well are they working?
  • Can re-conceptualising environmental problems through the lens of transboundary environmental commons/ common pool resources lend insights into more effective and participatory forms of transboundary environmental governance? 
  • To what extent can examples of transboundary activism/ governance that emerge in specific contexts in Southeast Asia be thought of as examples of best practice for replication or emulation in other world regions?
  • What kinds of actions are needed at different scales to promote more effective modes of transboundary environmental governance?


Paper proposals should include a title, an abstract (250 words maximum) and a brief personal biography of 150 words for submission by 15 June 2018. Please note that only previously unpublished papers, or those not already committed elsewhere, can be accepted. The organisers plan to publish an edited volume with selected papers presented in this conference. By participating in the conference you agree to participate in the future publication plans of the organisers. Hotel accommodation for three nights and a contribute towards airfare expenses will be provided for accepted paper participants (one author per paper).

Please submit your proposal using the provided paper proposal to Dr Michelle Miller at and Miss Sharon Ong at by 15 June 2018. Successful applicants will be notified by 30 June 2018 and will be required to send in a completed draft paper (5,000 - 8,000 words) by 15 October 2018.

Contact Info: 


Professor David Taylor
Department of Geography, National University of Singapore

Professor Jonathan Rigg
Asia Research Institute, and Department of Geography, National University of Singapore

Dr Michelle Miller
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

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