Ministerial Conference on Environment & Development in Asia & the Pacific Opens

Seoul, 28 March 2005 - Statement by Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP the opening of the 5th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development in Asia and the Pacific.

Thank you for inviting me to address the opening of the 5th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development in Asia and the Pacific.

It is a delight to be back in the Republic of Korea a year after the eighth special session of UNEP’s Governing Council.

The result was the Jeju Initiative.

This was and is a milestone in affirming the central role of ecosystems in meeting global targets in areas such as clean drinking water and sanitation.

The Initiative goes to the heart of this conference’s theme--“Green growth”.

“Green growth” is the biggest challenge facing the world and this dynamic region in particular.

If we are to deliver sustainable development and defeat poverty we need to give real value to the services the planet provides.

By some estimates, the Earth’s atmosphere, wildlife, soils, water bodies and other natural features, are worth $33 trillion.

But these are rarely if ever factored into a nation’s national accounts.

Instead they have traditionally been treated as free and their exploitation limitless.

This has sometimes been called the tragedy of the commons.

On 30 March, an international team of scientists will deliver the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

UNEP has been actively involved.

Just one figure. Just one piece of food for thought.

The services an intact wetland delivers are worth $6,000 a hectare

Once cleared for intensive agriculture is worth just a third of this.

Clearly we prize our wetlands, we actively conserve them as economically important natural capital.

Sadly no. Over the past century around half have been lost and drained.

This out dated, out moded, thinking has to go.

If wetlands, forests, rivers and the air we breathe were factories, banking institutions or the like, it would be considered gross vandalism or arson to damage them in the way we do.

It is worse than this. It is medium and long-term economic suicide.

Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, makes the same point in his report to the Summit-level meeting on the five-year review of the Millennium Development Goals and UN reforms.

Last week, in advance of the September Summit, he stated in his report In Larger Freedom: ”We fundamentally depend on natural systems and resources for our existence and development. Our efforts to defeat poverty and pursue sustainable development will be in vain if environmental degradation and natural resource depletion continue unabated”.

So to deliver green growth, we need a revolution in the use of natural resources including fuels.

We also need a revolution in the way we manage waste in all its forms.

We need to reduce its quantity and toxicity.

We need to view it as a raw material in its own right. Not something to dump or throw away.

The Asia Pacific region is in the center of this new thinking.

In China we have the Circular Economy. Japan has given us the 3 Rs.

Bhutan has the Middle Path and Gross National Happiness.

The Republic of Korea has the Extended Producer Responsibility.

The final report of the Asia-Pacific Forum for Environment and Development (APFED), released here suggests a range of interesting finance options including Eco currencies.

Many different approaches.

But all rivers flowing to the same sea.

Bali Plan

If we are to value better our ecosystem services, our natural capital, we need better science and assessment at the sub-regional and national level.

If we are to change unsustainable consumption and production patterns-- in line with the World Summit on Sustainable Development’s Plan of Implementation-- we need to put more capacity and new technologies into developing nations.

So I am delighted that governments at UNEP’s Governing Council last month adopted the Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity Building.

It makes UNEP operational on the national level.

Better able to respond to the requests of governments and regional ministerial conferences.

2005 - A Year of Opportunity

From time to time, years come along where there are real opportunities for change.

2005 is such a year.

The Kyoto Protocol has, despite the doubting Thomas’, entered into legal life.

We look forward to the first Committee of the Parties in Canada later in the year and an agenda that will meet Kyoto’s timetable and targets.

The reports of the Secretary-General and recently published Millennium Project make it clear that a healthy environment is at the centre of the Millennium Development Goals and a sustainable, prosperous, world.

Let me give you one further cause for optimism from a minister from the developed world.

Just a few weeks ago he stated:” More than sixty year ago in 1944, the economist John Maynard Keynes laid down what he believed were the foundations of economic policy—that it was for government to ensure the twin objectives of high and stable levels of growth and employment.”

“Today we know that there is a third objective on which our economies must be built—and that is environmental care”.

“If our economies are to flourish, if poverty is to be banished, and if the well-being of the world’s people enhanced—not just in this generation but in succeeding generations—we must make sure we take care of the natural environment and resources on which are economic activity depends”.

Clearly the words, the plea, of an environment minister.

Not so.

The words of Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance and Economic Minister) of the United Kingdom to G8 ministers in London.

So maybe we are turning the corner.

Maybe, next time a wetland is proposed for drainage or a forest is to be clear cut, it will be the Finance ministries who step in.

Not just on moral or sentimental ground, but because the environmental degradation is economic madness and a threat to national wealth.

I look forward to the outcomes of your meeting here and its contribution to achieving green growth, to delivering sustainable development.

Seven hundred million people in Asia alone are still living on less than a dollar day.

Let’s us all work together to lift them out of poverty while also ensuring it remains a world fit to live in for their sake and their children’s.

For more information please contact Eric Falt Spokesman/Director UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information, Tel: 254 20 623292, E-mail eric.falt@unep.org or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, Tel: 254 20 623084, Mobile 254 (0) 733 632755, E-mail nick.nuttall@unep.org.


 

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