The Ministerial Conference on Environment Development in Asia and the Pacific, 2000, organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) ended on 5 September after six days of talks with the adoption of a regional action programme for environmentally sound and sustainable development. Vision for the 21st Century: Ministerial Declaration on Environment and Development in Asia and the Pacific is supposed to reflect the commitment of governments to reversing environmental degradation in all areas. A copy of the declaration was not available at the times of edie’s publication.

Details of commitment’s undertaken are at present sketchy but the conference saw the adoption of the regional action programme for 2001 – 2005 which focuses on strategies to meet environmental challenges in eight priority areas: environmental quality and human health, biodiversity, coastal and marine environments, freshwater resources, desertification and land degradation; globalisation and policy integration; climate change and sustainable energy development. The action plan proposes areas for action in each of these areas at the national, sub-regional and regional levels.

At the conference ministers from all member states, minus the United States, which boycotted the talks because of Japan’s return to whaling, reviewed the underlying causes of environmental degradation in the region, namely increasing poverty and rapid population growth. “Meeting basic human needs and poverty eradication are the only rational starting points for the development process…but [they] are also closely associated with many environmental problems”, the Executive Secretary of ESCAP, Mr. Kim Hak-Su, said, adding that targets would be introduced to sustain natural resources.

Ministers heard good and bad news about the region’s environmental issues: the fact that environmental and sustainable development issues in Asia and the Pacific have assumed greater prominence and public attention and that is now more education and private sector interest in investing in sustainable development, were cited as positive recent developments.

Serious air and water pollution , biodiversity loss, freshwater scarcity, land degradation and desertification, solid and hazardous waste disposal, and the cumulative impacts of climate change, were cited as the most pressing regional problems. There was also an announcement by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that as the region’s population is expected to swell to 5 billion in the first half of the century, for the first time in history the region’s urban population will equal its rural, placing the issue of urban environmental management as a top priority.

“As always the nearly 1 billion poor inhabitants of the region are among the worst affected , since they generally have little choice but to live close to the dirty rivers, smoky factories, busy roads and contaminated dump sites, making them more vulnerable to disease and the impacts of environmental neglect,” said ESCAP’s Executive Secretary, Mr Kim Hak-Su in his opening statement.

“We estimate that a minimum of US$13 billion will be required annually to maintain the present status of the environment in Asia and the Pacific. Multiples of that amount will be needed additionally to improve the environment significantly”, said Asian Development Bank President Tadao Chino, adding that the private sector must be developed to meet the demand for sustainable development projects.

There were messages of hope from the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Mr Klaus Topfer, who with the new growth period of the Asian economies, with a younger capital stock, there would be “a fresh opportunity to implement more environmental precautions, promote cleaner technologies and raise environmental awareness” and from Mr Annan. He said that information technologies, with their potential to spread environmental awareness, globalisation, which has the potential to promote greater environmental responsibility, and partnerships with business and civil society were some of the solutions causing reason for some optimism.

Another outcome of the Conference was the Kitakyushu Initiative for a Clean Environment, based on the experiences of the host city, well known for its urban environmental rehabilitation. The initiative will explore areas where the experiences of the city of Kitakyushu can be replicated and shared with other regional urban centres.

The conference is held in the region every five years and was the largest regional gathering of environment ministers in advance of the ten year review of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) to be held in 2002.

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