Greater Mekong Subregion

The Greater Mekong Subregion, (GMS) or just Greater Mekong, is a trans-national region of the Mekong River basin in Southeast Asia. The region is home to more than 300 million people. It came into being with the launch of a development program in 1992 by the Asian Development Bank that brought together the six states of Cambodia, China (specifically Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region), Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.[1]

The Greater Mekong holds irreplaceable natural and cultural riches and is considered one of the world's most significant biodiversity hotspots. The region is an important food provider and the site of many large-scale construction projects with social and economic implications.[2]

For more than two decades, the six countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion have been working together under an economic cooperation program[3] to realize their vision of a prosperous, integrated, and harmonious subregion.

The GMS Program, with the support of development partners, helps identify and implement high-priority subregional projects in a wide range of sectors: agriculture, energy, environment, health and human resource development, information and communication technology, tourism, transport, transport and trade facilitation, and urban development. More than US$20 billion in investments have been directly channeled through the program.[4]

Since 1998, the GMS program has been using economic corridors to promote economic growth and development. Economic corridors are investment areas, usually running along major highways, which connect centers of economic activity. Three main economic corridors are being developed in the Greater Mekong Subregion: the North-South Economic Corridor, the Southern Economic Corridor, and the East-West Economic Corridor.[5]

In September 2017, the 22nd Ministerial Conference in Hanoi, Vietnam endorsed the . The rolling pipeline includes more than 200 investment and technical assistance projects, which will require more than US$80 billion in financing.[6]

On 31 March 2018, the Sixth GMS Summit of Leaders in Hanoi adopted the Hanoi Action Plan and the Regional Investment Framework 2022.[7]

The region has a diverse landscape including massifs, plateaus, and limestone karsts, lowlands, floodplains and deltas, forests (evergreen and semi-evergreen, deciduous, dipterocarp, mangroves, and swamp), and grasslands. Water environments include fast-flowing mountain streams and wetlands such as Tonlé Sap in Cambodia.[8]

The region's geographic variety and consequent variety of climatic zones supports significant biodiversity, with more than a thousand new species discovered in the first decade of the 2000s. The geographic region encapsulates 16 of the World Wide Fund for Nature's (WWF) Global 200 ecoregions, and habitats for an estimated 20,000 plant species, 1,300 fish species, 1,200 bird species, 800 reptile and amphibian species, and 430 mammalian species. Notable species include the Javan rhino, Irrawaddy dolphins, and Mekong giant catfish, one of the largest extant freshwater fish.[8] The WWF reported that in 2016, 115 new species were discovered in the region, including three mammals, two fish, 11 reptiles, 11 amphibians, and 88 plants. This brings the total number of newly-discovered species in the Greater Mekong Subregion from 1997 to 2016 to 2,524.[9]

The region's biodiversity is ranked as a top-five most threatened hotspot by Conservation International. The WWF cites accelerating economic development, population growth, and increased consumption patterns as primary causes, including agricultural deforestation, logging and illegal timber trade, wildlife trade, overfishing, dam and road construction, and mining. The WWF also states that the region is particularly vulnerable to global climate change.[8]

With the rapid development in the region, conservation efforts to protect natural resources, habitats, biodiversity and local cultures in the Greater Mekong have become urgent. The most pressing current threats are hydropower development, climate change, illegal wildlife trade, and habitat loss.[2]

The harvesting and production of natural resources in the Greater Mekong Subregion is of significant economic importance, with the retail value of Mekong river fisheries alone estimated at more than US$4 billion annually.[10]

The Greater Mekong Subregion has become the site of large-scale construction projects and rapid economic development, including hydropower dams, mining, forestry, and industrial production.[2] These factors have raised environmental concerns internationally since the mid-2000s. For now, it has resulted in formulation of environmental programs and strategy proposals and strategy developments of a sustainable green growth economy for this region. It has been attained by influential organizations like the United Nations (UNEP and FAO), WWF, PROFOR and others, in high-level collaboration with the governmental ministries of the countries comprising the Greater Mekong Subregion.[10][11][12][13]

The GMS was one of the world's most densely forested areas in the 1970s, but has since lost a third of its forests.[14] It is on a trajectory that will lose it another third between 2010–2030.[15]