Address at Opening of the Senior Officials Segment

Delivered at Asia-Pacific Ministerial Summit on the Environment in Bangkok, Thailand

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the Seventh Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development – a collective endeavour which convenes the second UNEP Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia Pacific under the umbrella of the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Summit on the Environment. I am very proud that this partnership has been brought to this logical stage.

This round of deliberations will be centred on the theme “Towards a resource-efficient and pollution-free Asia-Pacific”. We will hear perspectives on the relationship between resource efficiency and sustainable development and on efforts to promote a healthy environment that eases the stress of poverty, rapid urbanization, climate change and waste.

To set the scene for your deliberations, ESCAP’s report on the sustainable use of resources examines in depth the issues and policy options for sustainable management of resources in our region. It sets out collaborative efforts being launched by ESCAP and the UN system to support member States.

Asia and the Pacific continues to exhibit high resource intensity in energy production and consumption. This is evident in the consumption levels of fossil fuels, metals and minerals. Resources use both in absolute and per capita terms over past two decades have increased. Advanced economies recorded a 10 per cent increase in per capita materials use, while low and middle-income countries witnessed sharp increase in materials consumption of 270 per cent because of their economies’ pace of growth. Paradoxically, our region’s resource efficiency, except for energy efficiency, has been declining since the early 2000s. Our region is highly resource inefficient compared to the rest of the world. The Asia-Pacific now accounts for about 60 per cent of global domestic material consumption, but for only 32 per cent of global GDP in 2015.

Understanding and tackling this trend requires deeper understanding of its underlying drivers. Consumption patterns, technology choices, the use of renewable energy and changes to the structure of the economy all impact on resource efficiency. ESCAP’s research has found that most countries which improved their resource efficiency over the past 25 years also lifted their Human Development Index (HDI). However, some of the emerging production hubs of Asia, such as Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam have increased their HDI but their resource efficiency has worsened. The are other countries in this category also. Deeper analysis reveals the inter-generational impacts of unsustainable use may play out over longer timescales. While HDI is a measure of human progress, the framework of the 2030 Agenda reminds us that human well-being is deeply intertwined with environmental health. HDI alone cannot impact resource efficiency but requires recognition of other sector linkages which together influence the long-term health dynamics of societies.

To answer the question of how to reverse the trend of declining resource efficiency, ESCAP explored broader policy pathways of Asia and the Pacific. In the face of a subdued regional outlook, careful calibration of policies is warranted to achieve the right mix of macro and sectoral policy pathways to enhance resource efficiency, and encourage the delinking of economic growth from resource use. Macroeconomic frameworks must fundamentally integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development through policy coherence and consistency backed by an enabling a resource mix framework to allow for a transition towards resource efficiency. Concurrently, countries should undertake a series of steps towards this goal:

First, integrate resource efficiency targets within national development agendas and focus on identification of specific areas where sector nexus and integration can be harnessed to guide the transition to resource efficiency.

Second, introduce targeted and supportive legal and regulatory measures to enforce resource efficiency standards. To be fully effective, there is a need to adopt complementary measures such as awareness-raising and financial incentives for businesses and consumers to boost resource efficiency and simultaneously generate economic benefits.

Third, promote overarching macroeconomic resource efficient policy framework through adoption of the right taxes, the removal of subsidies and pricing policy reforms to deploy an incentive framework that promotes investment policies and social safety nets to catalyze a sustainable transition to resource efficiency.

Fourth, promote resource-efficiency-friendly enabling financing frameworks to harness innovative sources of financing to leverage resource efficient investments and production.

Finally, policymakers must re-evaluate trade portfolios and their implications for resource efficiency. Our region is the driver of global trade. This calls for considering the implications of their export and import portfolios and their positions in regional and global value chains for resource efficiency.

Building on the macroeconomic policy foundations, targeted sector-specific policy interventions are vital for putting resource efficiency in Asia Pacific on track. Some examples of these approaches include:

  1. Mainstreaming resource efficiency targets within sectoral policies and adopting the right resource efficiency in agriculture, manufacturing and infrastructure sectoral policies.
  2. Leapfrogging to efficient technologies and creating the capacity for innovation to promote resource efficiency.
  3. Introducing effective waste management and practices to get more value out of existing resources, especially for countries with a growing middle-class or with rapidly urbanising societies.
  4. Lastly, putting in place better, aggregated and disaggregated resource efficiency data and indicators to track progress, to design more informed policies and to monitor the impact of existing policies.

Before closing, I would like to underscore the significance of the strong role that regional cooperation can play to support resource efficiency with the support of ESCAP, the largest regional commission of the UN and the broader UN system. The Regional Road Map for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the Asia-Pacific, which our member States adopted earlier this year, provides a guiding framework for facilitating regional cooperation harnessed by information and knowledge sharing and dissemination of good practices. The Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development, facilitated by ESCAP now for past 30 years and now complemented by the UNEP-UNESCAP partnership which will be further enhanced for the next Ministerial round.

This would offer us a substantive joint UN platform to deepen our support to disseminate right regional priorities, perspectives and practices for topics of relevance to promote forward looking action and implementation support for strengthening resource efficiency through policy, legal and regulatory changes and sustainable management of natural resources. The Asia-Pacific Regional Coordination Mechanism, convened by ESCAP, through its Thematic Working Group on Resource-Efficient Growth, provides a further opportunity to improve the capacity of governments and other stakeholders to use resource efficiency approaches and tools in the development, planning and implementation process

In conclusion, we all know that profligate resource use is putting planetary health at risk and has the potential to reverse the human development achievements of the past decades. Our challenge is formidable, but there are also more opportunities than ever to affect change. We need to work together to drive forward an innovative, productive, resource efficient, low carbon economy. A visionary and decisive Ministerial Declaration will be an important component of such a transformation. Our member States have worked hard to bring forward a draft Declaration for consideration by the ministers. I look forward to listening to your aspirations for sustainable and efficient resource management over the next days, as you work towards finalizing the outcome document.

I thank you.