Managing Industrial Pollution in the Greater Mekong Subregion

After centuries of agricultural dependence, GMS countries have pursued industrialization in recent decades. As a result, their economies are now more diversified and consumer-driven. Although this has brought many socioeconomic benefits, it has created pollution problems, which are worsening.

Air pollution is a growing concern in urban areas across the GMS, as is the level of pollution in coastal and other water bodies. The impacts on health and the environment are already considerable and coming at an increasing cost to economic development.  Effective efforts to tackle all forms of pollution will be essential for the GMS countries to achieve many of their Sustainable Development Goals.

The GMS’s most industrialized countries—the PRC, Thailand, and Viet Nam—are already investing heavily in monitoring and managing pollution, though more needs to be done. Cambodia, the Lao PDR, and Myanmar are still in the early stages of industrialization and pollution is emerging as a growing problem in these countries, where thousands of factories have been built in recent years. Pollution from their burgeoning manufacturing sectors is a pressing concern for human health and the environment. So far, these countries have inadequate capacity, resources, and systems to monitor and manage pollution.

The CEP analyzed industrial pollution risks in the Lao PDR in 2015  and Cambodia in 2016 at the request of both countries’ governments. The program used the World Bank’s Industrial Pollution Project System with its coefficients for 16 water, air, and land pollutants. The system is fairly easy to use because it mainly relies on a database of national enterprises with information about the size, location, and type of manufacturing businesses.  In 2017, Myanmar sought CEP support to analyze its industrial pollution risks, but because of inadequate enterprise data, the analysis was less comprehensive than for the other countries.

Despite the data constraints, important insights were generated for all three countries. The main finding was that they could make large reductions in industrial pollution discharges by focusing resources on a relatively small number of industrial facilities in a few geographic areas. In the Lao PDR, for example, 10 cement lime and plaster enterprises account for more than 30% of the country’s industrial air pollution emissions. Across all three countries, the most polluting facilities are concentrated in the urban fringes, economic and industrial zones, and near major transport and trade infrastructure, such as ports, airports, and highways.

Among the recommendations that build on the pollution analyses was for a review of pollution control resources to ensure they are allocated to the most polluting sectors and geographic areas. Another recommendation calls for industrial pollution audits for plants identified as the largest producers of air, water, and toxic pollutants.

Using the Industrial Pollution Project System was an important first step for mainstreaming pollution control in the three countries. The analyses raised awareness among government officials about the pollution situation, information needs, and where resources should be allocated.

The findings influenced major environmental strategies in the GMS, including the Lao PDR’s Pollution Control Strategy and Cambodia’s National Environmental Strategy and Action Plan. The findings can also be used to inform environmental quality guidelines and broader policies and regulations for environmental and social safeguards.

With better input data and coefficients adjusted to national contexts, an adapted version of the Industrial Pollution Project System could be a powerful tool to help the GMS countries estimate emissions and to avoid and mitigate pollution.

Publish Date: 15th March 2018

Last Updated: 19th March 2018

See more content: Strategic Planning GMS Safeguards

See also

GMS Working Group on Environment 24th Annual Meeting

1st April 2019

The 24th Annual Meeting of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Working Group (WG) on Environment reviewed the achievements of the GMS Core Environment Program Phase II and discussed the way forward. WGE AM-24 was hosted by the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) with support from ADB through the GMS Environment Operations Center.


The WGE AM-24 was followed by thematic discussions that covered the proposed new programs entitled: "GMS Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability Program (CCESP)" and "GMS Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security Program (SAFSP)" which are aligned with three out of seven operational priorities of Strategy 2030 approved by the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Board in 2018.


The CCESP will focus on ADB Strategy 2030’s operational priority: tackling climate change, building climate and disaster resilience, and enhancing environmental sustainability, while SAFSP will focus on ADB Strategy 2030’s operational priority: promoting rural development and food security. Both programs will support ADB Strategy 2030’s operational priority: fostering regional cooperation and integration.


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Consultation Workshop on GMS Climate Change and Environment Sustainability Program (CCESP)

1 to 2 April 2019

Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Climate Change and Environment Sustainability Program (CCESP): The proposed knowledge and support technical assistance (TA) on CCESP will build on the key achievements of two phases of the Core Environment Program and support the implementation of the GMS Core Environment Program Strategic Framework and Action Plan 2018-2022, which was endorsed at the Fifth GMS Environment Ministers’ Meeting held in 2018. The CCESP will focus on creating enabling conditions to leverage additional investment in priority areas such as (i) green technologies and sustainable infrastructure; (ii) natural resources and ecosystem services; and (iii) green growth, climate resilience and disaster risk management.

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