LSE Southeast Asia Week 2020: Environmental Resilience and Southeast Asia

Hosted by the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre

Online Event


Dr Winston Chow

Dr Winston Chow

Associate Professor of Science, technology, and Society at the Singapore Management University (SMU)

Dr Helena Varkkey

Dr Helena Varkkey

Senior Lecturer at the University of Malaya, Malaysia

Dr Rory Padfield

Dr Rory Padfield

Lecturer in Sustainability & Business in the School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds

Dr Michelle Miller

Dr Michelle Miller

Senior Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore


Dr Thomas Smith

Dr Thomas Smith

Assistant Professor in Environmental Geography and SEAC Associate at LSE

As part of LSE Southeast Asia Week 2020, SEAC hosted a roundtable panel discussion, chaired by SEAC Associate Dr Thomas Smith (LSE Geography and Environment) on 30th October 2020. The discussion invited four speakers to explore the extent to which the environment shapes and defines the region, and the role that environmental resilience must play over the coming decades.


What climate risks does SE Asia face over the next thirty years? (Dr Winston Chow)

In 2018, the IPCC assessed that global greenhouse gas emissions must reach net-zero around 2050 to give the world a fighting chance in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C. However, what could happen if we do not reach that goal in thirty years? Using several case studies, I’ll briefly elaborate on key climate-related risks facing Southeast Asia; from direct (heat waves, fires, droughts, and floods) to indirect events (compound and cascading risk events) that will threaten the region, especially vulnerable populations within its rapidly developing cities. 

Transboundary Haze Governance in Times of Change: A Malaysian Perspective (Dr Helena Varkkey)

In contrast with its long history of single-party rule, Malaysia has had several successive changes of government in a relatively short span of 3 years. This has coincided with a major haze event (2019) and the COVID-19 pandemic (2020). I will consider how Malaysia's history of political continuity has limited its ability to deal with change effectively, particularly in the context of environmental resilience. Using the case study of the Southeast Asian Haze, I will discuss how leadership change has disrupted both national-level management of haze-producing fires, as well as regional intervention efforts, both collaborative and unilateral. 

Digital connectivity and landscape transitions in Southeast Asia (Dr Rory Padfield) 

This talk considers the term ‘connectivity’ within the context of an emerging digital connectivity across Southeast Asia. In the past twenty years or so, a proliferation of digital technologies and geospatial tools have breathed life into our understanding of tropical land use change. Drones, satellites, smart phone apps, as well as GIS software, and social media platforms have documented and spread (mis)information about the nature and scale of deforestation, resource extraction, fires, and landscape transformation more broadly. In this talk I challenge the audience to consider the extent to which enhanced digital connectivity is a force for good in the goal to achieve a more sustainable and resilient environment in Southeast Asia.

Urban Resilience and Environmental Change in Southeast Asia (Dr Michelle Miller)

I will address how cities and urban populations are constitutive of wider geographies of environmental transformations and why this matters for urban resilience. The focus will be on the role of urban centres, as the main drivers of demands for natural resources, in contributing to the creation of environmental risks and threats that increase urban vulnerabilities through disaster-induced rural-urban migration, air and water pollution and climate change impacts. More positively, however, cities are at the forefront of efforts to build resilience governance capacities through socially inclusive partnerships involving diverse stakeholders, technologies and sources of ecological knowledge. Drawing from the example of Indonesia’s Mount Merapi on Java Island, I will show how urban resilience is linked to volcanic sand mining that is used to fortify urban infrastructures but inadvertently introduces new forms of environmental risk and urban precarity.



A video of this event is available to watch at Facebook.


  • Dr Winston Chow is an Associate Professor of Science, technology, and Society at the Singapore Management University’s (SMU) School of Social Sciences and Office of Core Curriculum. His current research is on urban vulnerability to climate change, urban heat island adaptation and mitigation, and environmental perceptions in tourism. He is a Principal Investigator for the Cooling Singapore initiative, and is an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Lead Author for their chapter on “Cities, Settlements and Key Infrastructure” in the Sixth Assessment Report on Climate Change. He enjoys talking and writing about these research issues, and he tweets sporadically on many topics (unrelated to climate change) at @winstontlchow.
  • Dr Helena Varkkey is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Malaya, Malaysia. Her research focuses on transboundary pollution in Southeast Asia, particularly pertaining to the role of patronage in agribusiness, especially the palm oil industry, and its link to peat and forest fires and haze in the region.
  • Dr Rory Padfield is a lecturer in Sustainability & Business in the School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds. Previously, he taught Development Geography at Oxford Brookes University (2016-2018) and prior to that spent six years lecturing in sustainability at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (2010-2016). Drawing on critical (human geography) and applied (environmental & business management) academic perspectives of sustainable development, Rory’s research examines sustainability across and between different scales of business and organizations. He’s especially interested in supply chains that originate or have impacts in countries in the Global South, and Rory draws on political ecology perspectives to pursue critical questions around ethics, social and environmental responsibility, and local-global political economy.
  • Dr Michelle Miller is Senior Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. Her research focuses on intersections between the political geographies of environmental governance and urban change. She has conducted ethnographic and archival research on emerging spaces and boundaries of social justice, conflict resolution and urbanisation in Indonesia since 1999, and she contributes to theoretical debates about the political and environmental transformation of Southeast Asia.
  • Dr Thomas Smith is Assistant Professor in Environmental Geography at the LSE. He teaches on a number of environmental courses, focussing on innovative technology-enhanced experiential learning and field-based education in geography. Dr Smith joined the Department in 2018, having previously been a Lecturer at King’s College London. He holds a PhD in Physical Geography from King’s College London and has held Visiting Fellow posts at the National University of Singapore, Monash University Malaysia, University of Wollongong (Australia), and Universiti Brunei Darussalam. Dr Smith is a geographer and environmental scientist, specialising in interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the role of biomass burning in the Earth system.

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