Address To China Daily and Asia News Network
Beijing 8 April, 2010 - Climate Change has been described as the biggest market failure of this generation.
But there are other market failures too.
The recent food or food price crisis and the rapidly emerging natural resource scarcity crisis are also part of this market failure mentality.
There is also an employment crisis with two billion people likely to be unemployed or under-employed within the next decade.
Will they all be put to work making cars, washing machines and I-pods-will we all own three or four cars; 10 mobile phones and PCs?
Or are there different kinds of jobs in sustainable industries such as recyling, materials recovery and natural resource management?
We live in a world that is pushing, if not pushing past critical limits-climate change is a key one.
In the past, in a world of a few millions or hundred million people, one option was too mine the natural world and to pollute the seas, the land and the atmosphere and move on.
This is not possible in a world of six billion, moving to nine billion people by 2050.
There is no where to go.
It is also not possible if, as appears to be happening not least as a result of climate change, humans are fundamentally and systematically changing their life support systems at regional and global level.
We need to manage the multiple challenges.
And manage not in a piecemeal, bit by bit way, but in a joined-up far smarter and intelligent strategic approach.
UNEP recently launched its Green Economy Initiative.
It is a broad-based and aimed at catalyzing a transition to a low carbon, high-tech, resource efficient and job generating 21st century global economy.
It is showcasing smart market mechanisms and intelligent fiscal and other government policies able to unleash the private sector towards a less wasteful economic path.
For markets are not God given: they are man-made and as such can be steered in a direction that maximizes environmental, social and economic returns.
Some Asian economies such as the Republic of Korea (95 per cent) and China (over a third) have invested a significant slice of their stimulus packages-in response to the global financial crisis- in green sectors.
These include low carbon vehicles, high speed rail links; recycling; energy efficiency and renewable energies and so on.
This is the hard, Green Economy infrastructure.
But there is perhaps one missed opportunity here. And that is what one might call investments and re-investments in the soft Green Economy, what we call ecological infrastructure.
Forests are a case in point.
At the recent UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen, governments gave the green light to REDD-reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
Deforestation currently accounts for somewhere near 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.
Investments here are not just good for the climate, but for water supplies, nutrient recycling, soil stabilization; biodiversity and jobs-a real Green Economy investment.
Several Asian countries are working under the UN-REDD programme to be part of this new carbon investment opportunity including Indonesia and Vietnam. Why not more.
And what about agriculture, can we farm in a far more carbon friendly ways.
UNEP is working with farmers and landowners in Kenya, Niger, Nigeria and China to test this and to set a standard.
One that can allow a carbon market investor in London or Frankfurt to assess how much to pay for every tonne of carbon locked away under different land management regimes.
And what about other ecosystems, say mangroves.
These tropical ecosystems are being rapidly cleared-something like five per cent annually- for coastal development and for shrimp farms.
Yet they are nurseries for fish, water purification systems and important for coastal defenses.
They are also important in the fight against climate change.
UNEP and others estimate that along with seagrasses and salt marshes, mangroves may be soaking up greenhouse gases equal to half the world's transport emissions.
So why are we clearing them when they are worth far more intact than damaged and destroyed-clearly another market failure here too.
The path Asia takes over the coming years and decades will in large part define the sustainability or unsustainability of planet Earth including in respect to climate change.
Asia is undoubtedly going to grow: the question is how that growth will happen-old brown growth or Green Growth.
Unlike developed economies, whose infrastructures are largely in place, vast swathes of Asia are a bright, blank canvas upon which modern, low carbon-rather than carbon hungry-development could occur.
International support will be crucial, but so too enabling, encouraging and imaginative national policies will also be central.
Asia is also home to vast natural assets from forests to marine ecosystems which if creatively managed could underpin increasing levels of wealth and employment including via solutions to the climate change challenge.
Yet another reason why it is in Asia's interests to fully re-engage at the next UN climate convention meeting in Mexico later in the year.
So ladies and gentlemen, the elements of green growth are emerging in Asia.
With the right political impetus this region become the power house and the leader in a low carbon, high-tech rather than dirty tech, resource efficient Green Economic future
One that makes Asia also highly competitive, less dependent on finite natural resources and a model for overcoming poverty and a beacon for sustainability.
It is in the end a choice-but one that is already starting to be made: the time has come to embed it into policy decisions region-wide that embrace multiple sectors from the hard to the soft.