JAPAN CONFERENCE ON THE ENVIRONMENT: ASIA-PACIFIC'S TIME TO ACT

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By Klaus Toepfer Executive Director United Nations Environment Programme

BANGKOK, Thailand (August 28, 2000 - UNEP/PINA Nius Online)---"Asia and the Pacific can lead the world, offering a vision of a clean and healthy future that is so urgently needed."

Institutions and concepts cause poverty and environmental degradation. This simple fact needs to be foremost in the minds of delegates to the fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development in Asia and the Pacific, to be held in Kitakyushu City, Japan from Thursday to September 5.

The meeting of ministers and senior officials from more than 50 countries, organized by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, will frame the debate about environment and development for the next five years. It will adopt a Regional Action Programme for Environmentally Sound and Sustainable Development.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recognized in its Global Environmental Outlook-2000 report - an authoritative assessment of the state of the world environment published last year - that "inspired political leadership and intense cooperation across all regions and sectors" will be needed to adequately respond to the scale of environmental challenges we face.

In many respects the key to our environmental future lies with Asia and the Pacific. It is a dynamic region, rich in cultural diversity, resources, economic innovation and potential.

It is blessed with superlatives - from the world's tallest peaks to the largest tracts of coastal mangrove forest. Ancient Asian societies gave us science, music, poetry, and the foundations of mathematics. More recently it offered us the Green Revolution and the Quality Revolution; both aimed at addressing some of society's most pressing needs.

Unfortunately, the region can also claim the dirtiest rivers, the most polluted air, the worst traffic congestion, the highest rate of natural resource degradation and the most people living in absolute poverty.

To avoid making an already critical situation intolerable, UNEP's GEO-2000 assessment recommends that future action focus on four priority areas: filling knowledge gaps, tackling root causes, taking an integrated approach, and mobilizing the involvement of civil society.

Let's take the issue identified as being most important among 200 leading scientists surveyed for GEO-2000 - climate change.

We know now that the rapid rise in the use of fossil fuels over the past century - mainly by industrialized nations - has pushed the climate system above its natural levels. To repeat the mistakes of the West - to continue on the path of releasing greenhouse gases - will create devastating social and economic consequences. Floods and droughts will increase, along with losses of biodiversity and arable lands and increased health risks.

The answer lies at both macro level - commitment to implementing international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol - and at national and local levels, encouraging the switch to other less polluting forms of energy, more suited to the needs and resources of each country or community.

This same transformative process is needed in each sector; away from excessive chemical use, large-scale logging, dammed waterways, wasteful fishing practices, haphazard urban settlement, to scales of enterprise that meet the needs of communities and protect the environment.

Precisely because so much of the urban-industrial investment within developing Asia has yet to take place, an important opportunity exists to shape a different development future - one that is far less energy, materials and waste intensive.

GEO-2000 makes it clear that the disparity between rich and poor is a major cause of environmental degradation. I have been calling on the leaders of industrialized nations to consider the impacts of their countries' consumptive behavior, financial flows and technology transfer on developing nations.

The vital role of government is to put in place the frameworks - economic, social, regulatory and ethical - that allow for sustainable development. The policies of trade, technology, investment and governance lie at the root of environmental well being. Cooperation at international, regional and sub-regional level is essential if we are to channel the process of globalization towards positive outcomes for all.

The private sector also has a critical part to play in defining and applying sustainability. New technologies and systems are needed that dramatically reduce environmental impact per unit of prosperity. I am convinced that those who lead the transformative process will enjoy the greatest business success.

The involvement of the public, non-governmental organizations and the media will also be needed to ensure that the actions of governments and companies are made on the basis of best information and practice, for greatest public good.

The Regional Action Programme identifies many of the responses that could shape environmental policy over the next five years.

My hope is that Asia and the Pacific charts new territory in developing a vision and model for sustainable development; one based on community-government partnership, one which catalyses a technological transformation unprecedented in scope and pace, and one which addresses poverty without further eroding the natural resource base of this wonderful region. - UNEP/PINA Nius Online.

For further information contact: Tim Higham Regional Information Officer UNEP/ROAP Bangkok, Thailand TEL: 662 288-2127 E-mail: higham.unescap@un.org

Information on the Ministerial meeting is available from the web site: http://www.unescap.org/mced2000 

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org  

 

FRESH APPROACH FOR ASIA-PACIFIC POLICIES STUDIED THIS WEEK

BANGKOK, Thailand (August 27, 2000 - United Nations Information Services/PINA Nius Online)---A fresh approach to tackling environmental problems is expected to be discussed by Asia and Pacific Ministers meeting in Japan this week.

The fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development in Asia and the Pacific will be held from Thursday to September 5 at Kitakyushu City, Japan. The conference is being organized by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and co-sponsored by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Bank.

The conference is the fourth in a series of ministerial-level meetings, held every five years. Ministers and senior officials are expected to review the implementation of Agenda 21 - an environmental blueprint - in the region, and assess the state of the environment in Asia and the Pacific.

"We need fresh approaches to tackling this problem. Among the ideas to be discussed is that a paradigm shift for sustainable policies be made by including all stakeholders in the management of sustainable development policies. The people who cause damage to the environment must also be part of the solution. Civil society, government departments other than the environment ministry, the private sector must all find solutions to these pressing problems," said an ESCAP expert.

The ministerial conference is expected to produce a declaration reaffirming the commitment of countries in the region to environmental protection. The ministerial conference is also in preparation for the 10-year review, in 2002, of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Ministers are expected to spearhead a new development policy, and identify the critical regional environmental issues.

One expected outcome of the conference is the regional action program for environmentally sound and sustainable development, 2001 - 2005. The program promotes cooperation in strengthening national capacities towards the pursuit of environmentally sound and sustainable development.

The plan will include the promotion of programs and projects at the regional and sub-regional levels that are necessary to support national level activities.

Governments will build on the experiences gained through previous regional and sub-regional action plans and strategies and take into account major environmental and development problems, trends and findings as highlighted in the report on the State of the Environment in Asia and the Pacific for 2000.

The main areas on the agenda:

This is expected to be supported by the Kitakyushu Initiative for Clean Environment, which will be a tool for urban environmental management.

"We hope the Ministerial Conference will constitute a comprehensive, substantial and proactive commitment on the part of countries in the region to bringing about a halt to environmental degradation and promoting sustainable development in the region," said ESCAP.

A number of associated events for the conference are being planned. They include an NGO Symposium for Developing Partnership Strategies for Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction; a Women's Conference on Environment; a media symposium; an Exhibition of Environmentally Sound Technologies; a Youth Caucus; and a Symposium on Promoting Public-Private Partnership for Environmental Management in Asia and the Pacific.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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