Address at Opening of the Ministerial Segment, Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on the Environment and Development

Delivered at Opening of the Ministerial Segment, Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on the Environment and Development in Bangkok, Thailand

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the Seventh Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development.

Setting a new tradition, consistent with the objective of working collectively across UN agencies, ESCAP’s Ministerial Conference and UNEP’s second Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia Pacific is being organized under the umbrella of the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Summit on the Environment. This event is a climate-neutral meeting, under the Secretary General’s Sustainable UN initiative.

The theme of the Conference is “Towards a resource-efficient and pollution-free Asia-Pacific region”. This theme acknowledges that the earth’s natural resources, including clean air and water, are fundamental for human survival, prosperity, and well-being.

Asia and the Pacific’s dynamism has driven the region’s economic growth with a remarkable reduction in poverty. The environmental challenges of resource intensive and high growth are set to be compounded by number of regional megatrends. Among these are urbanization, and high and changing consumption patterns as the region’s middle-income population has grown to 1.5 billion1 in Asia. This will be further augmented as the process of economic and trade integration deepens with the new regional integration initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasia initiative.

The scenario for the future of our environment is complicated. Three out of nine planetary boundaries have already been surpassed, and the Asia-Pacific’s contribution to this has been significant.2 Some principal areas of concern are:

  • Regional CO2 emissions have doubled between 1990 and 2012.
  • Resource intensity grew by 270 per cent over this time. The use of resources in Asia-Pacific, such as fossil fuels, minerals, metals and biomass, has tripled since 1990.
  • Rapid land use change and deforestation has reduced forest cover.
  • Air and water pollution has resulted in more than 7 million deaths annually, mostly from air pollution and a overstretched and weak healthcare systems.
  • The scale of plastic pollution – a global threat - is now turning up in 100 per cent of fish catch in some parts of Asia. This aggravates food insecurity and water scarcity, costing at least $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems every year.3

Access to resources has become more unequal as income gaps have widened. This has made the 2030 Agenda’s ambition to ‘leave no one behind’ more challenging to achieve. Allow me to give you some examples of alarming trends in the region.

  • Based on an analysis of land laws in 13 countries in the region, at least 4.5 million hectares of land, or 12.3 per cent of arable land, was transferred from smallholders to corporations.
  • 277 million people in the region still lack access to safe drinking water and 417 million people lack access to electricity. Most live in rural areas, where income largely determines access.
  • Almost 80 per cent of global food stocks are fully exploited or overexploited, and small-scale fisher communities - who rely on fisheries for food and security - are losing access to these resources.
  • About 95 per cent of adults and children impacted by pollution-related illnesses live in low and middle-income countries4 .

These trends threaten the economic and social development and resilience of our countries Sustainable development requires a careful decoupling of economic activity from resource use, waste and pollution. In other words, we need profound changes in resource efficiency.

While the challenges are formidable, our region has tremendous strengths to draw on and opportunities to seize. Environmental sustainability as an integral pillar of sustainable development must now be advanced across all countries in the region. At the past two sessions of ESCAP’s annual commission, environment dominated the agenda. A record number of agreements were forged on issues of climate change, dust and sandstorms, and on the sustainable use of oceans, seas, and marine resources. These decisions provide a solid basis on which to deliver the environmental dimensions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Building on the regional and global momentum to act, countries must now translate these agreements into action on the ground. The regional road map for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific, adopted by our member States earlier this year, provides a guiding framework for facilitating regional cooperation on sustainable management of natural resources.
Let me highlight four areas on which we need to focus our efforts.

First, policy coherence and consistency is essential. Resource efficiency targets must be integrated into national development agendas, backed by legal and regulatory measures for resource efficiency. For example, ten years ago the Government of China has instituted national legislation that led to a compulsory national cleaner production audit system. The direct economic benefits from this system are estimated to be more than $3 billion annually.

Second, we need an urgent reform of financial incentive frameworks and to deploy the right policy mix and financial instruments to support the transition to a resource efficient economy. Many countries continue to invest in high-carbon and resource-intensive systems. Global and regional funds; green financing; innovative financing mechanisms including carbon pricing mechanisms which simultaneously reduce emissions and conserve resources; along with integrated evaluation methods can upscale and replicate resource-efficient practices. For example, the promotion of biogas plants in Viet Nam was made possible by global climate finance funds. Several countries in the region such as Indonesia and Sri Lanka are emerging as leaders in the development of comprehensive, systemic approaches that embed sustainable finance at the heart of financial market development.

Third, resource efficiency must be recognized as a focus area for science, technology and innovation. Research shows that developing countries could cut their annual energy demand growth by more than half, from 3.4 per cent to 1.4 per cent, over the next 12 years. Business model innovations could also contribute to resource efficiency. New business models that promote multiple users sharing the same resource could significantly reduce resource inputs.

Fourth, enacting gender-responsive policies and programmes that recognise and respond to the needs and voices of women is fundamental to tackling food security, water, energy and other environmental challenges. ESCAP has given this issue careful consideration and will tomorrow be releasing a report on Gender, the Environment and Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific.

Lastly, target setting and monitoring of key indicators along with strong regulatory and institutional governance to ensure enforcement are required. Many countries in the region have not established the evaluation and monitoring frameworks needed to gauge success in policy objectives. Better aggregated and disaggregated data and indicators on resource efficiency is needed to track progress, design more informed policies and monitor the impact of existing policies.

In conclusion, a wealth of experience is available across the region from policies on environment, sustainable management of natural resources and resource efficiency that can guide further policy action. Countries in the region need to forge a transformative alliance to deliver on the 2030 Agenda, to kick start transformative actions and policy coherence that will create the innovative, productive, resource efficient, low carbon economies of the future.

Tomorrow, you will adopt the Ministerial Declaration on Environment and Development for Asia and the Pacific. The declaration was developed in consultations across all delegations, and it emphasizes your commitment to promote the sustainable management of the environment and natural resources as a core element of sustainable development. I believe it will be an important driver of the transformative alliance needed to effect change. ESCAP stands ready to support through our conference structure and through the broader UN family.

I thank you.

1Brookings Institute, (Feb 2017) Global Economy and Development Paper 100, The Unprecedented Expansion of the Global Middle Class,

2ESCAP, UNEP, et al. (2016). Transformations for Sustainable Development: Promoting Environmental Sustainability in Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok, United Nations.