Note: This is the 1997 edition of UNEP's Global Environment Outlook. If you are interested in more recent information, please see the 2000 and 2002 editions.

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Chapter 3: Policy Responses and Directions

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Asia and the Pacific

National Initiatives

A recent trend in many countries in Asia and the Pacific has been the strengthening of governance structures for environmental protection. A large number of environmental institutions have been established in the public sector, including environment ministries and independent environment agencies created to assist the environment ministries. These bodies need to be strengthened if they are to fulfil their mandated roles.

The environmental policy instruments applied in the region are mainly command-and-control policies and strategic environmental planning (ESCAP, 1995). Legislation, regulatory standards, and environmental planning procedures related to public works, particularly environmental impact assessments, are the most common instruments of environmental management. Serious efforts are also being made by industries and research institutes to develop new environmentally friendly technologies and to incorporate environmental considerations into production processes.

Umbrella environmental legislation and comprehensive environmental policies are commonly found in the region. Good examples are found in China (see Box 3.8) and Malaysia. In Malaysia, the Malaysian Environmental Quality Act (EQA) provides a framework for regulating most forms of pollution and enhancing environmental quality and management. The sectoral acts under the EQA of Malaysia include a Water Enactment act (control of river pollution); a Street, Drainage, and Building Act (control of effluent discharges into rivers); a Local Government act (control of pollution of streams within areas under local authorities); guidelines for air pollution control measures; and a motor vehicles act (control of smoke and gas emissions) (Malaysia, 1992 and 1993).

Another comprehensive policy has been implemented in Singapore. The Singapore Green Plan of 1992 set in place a mechanism to establish a city with high standards of public health, clean air, clean water, and clean land by the year 2000. The plan also addresses environmental education, environmental technology, resource conservation, clean technology, nature conservation, and environmental noise. It further calls for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, improving energy efficiency, and keeping daily garbage production at one kilogram per person (Singapore, 1993).

Appropriate policies and associated programmes and projects have been implemented to combat land degradation in the region. These include watershed management, soil and water conservation, sand dune stabilization, reclamation of waterlogged and saline land, forest and range management, and replenishment of soil fertility in croplands by use of green manures and cultivation of appropriate crops. In Nepal, for example, various watershed management projects operate in critically affected or degraded areas, such as the Kulekhani and Phewa Tal watersheds. Considerable success has been achieved in reducing the extent of land degradation in targetted areas. Involvement of the local communities at every stage in the projects' implementations ensured sustainability of the measures introduced (ESCAP, 1995).

Integrated watershed management programmes in many other countries, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Bhutan, have been instrumental in rehabilitating degraded land and preventing further degradation. In India, 86 million hectares are affected by degradation, 26 million of which are in highly critical areas being addressed on a priority basis under 35 centrally sponsored projects (UNEP/UNDP/FAO, 1994). More than 30,000 hectares of shifting and semi-stable sand dunes have been stabilized (ESCAP, 1995). In Pakistan, too, rehabilitation of desertified lands through plantations and fixation of mobile sand dunes by shelter belts and checker barrier fences has been successful (ESCAP, 1995).

Box 3.8.

An Example: China's Environmental Policy Framework

Management Framework, Policies, and Measures

The main emphasis of the environmental policies in China is to bring environmental protection in line with national economic development and social advancement, maximizing the economic, social, and environmental benefits. The Environmental Protection Laws of the People's Republic of China were adopted in 1979, under which a comprehensive environmental regulatory system was established. It comprises provisions in the nation's Constitution and laws and regulations that cover various aspects of environmental protection, including administrative aspects and the implementation of international conventions and agreements on the environment. In addition, eight national environmental programmes have been developed and implemented. These include both market-based and command-and-control instruments including:

  • The Three Synchronization Policy requires the design, construction, and operation of pollution treatment facilities along with any development projects involving new construction, renovation, or reconstruction;
  • Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA);
  • Pollution Charges System;
  • Responsibility System for Environmental Protection Targeting-defines the distribution of responsibility for ensuring environmental quality to a locality, a department, or a work unit;
  • Quantitative Assessment of Urban Comprehensive Environmental Control-provides a mechanism for co-ordinating economic, urban, and environmental construction activities under municipal governments to attain maximum cost effectiveness and to protect and shape the urban environment through appropriate policy adjustment;
  • Centralized Control of Pollution;
  • Pollution Discharge Registration Application and Discharge Permit Systems (DPS); and
  • System for Pollution Control within Deadlines-requires pollution-discharging enterprises and projects to reach a discharge standard set by the government within a given time period.

Efforts are being made to continuously improve the system of environmental laws and to establish and strengthen the institutional framework to ensure effective environmental management. The role of science and technology in environmental protection along with environmental education and awareness-raising activities are receiving increasing attention.

International Cooperation

International cooperation in the fields of regional and global environmental protection is being promoted. Bilateral agreements on cooperation have been signed with countries including the United States, Korea, Canada, India, South Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Russia, Germany, Australia, Ukraine, Finland, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands, covering topics such as environmental planning and management, global environmental problems, pollution control and prevention, protection of forest and wildlife, oceanic environment, climate change, atmospheric pollution, acid rain, and treatment of sewage. Close cooperation is maintained with organizations like the United Nations Economic and Social Council for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP), and contributions are made towards environmental development in the Asian and Pacific regions by way of participation in various regional and subregional environmental activities such as in the North-West Pacific Action Plan and East-Asian Seas Action Plan under the Regional Seas Programme. China is a Party to most of the global environmental conventions and agreements and an active participant in several international programmes such as the International Register of Potentially Toxic Chemicals (IRPTC), and INFOTERRA.


National Environmental Protection Agency of China (NEPA), personal communication. 1996.

China has also achieved remarcable success in some areas in controlling soil erosion since the State Council initiated a soil erosion control scheme in 1983. This involves soil and water conservation measures in eight different areas. After 10 years of conservation efforts, the erosion has been brought under control in 2 million hectares, a third of the total affected area. Improved land productivity doubled the total grain output in these areas. The second phase of the programme, covering 1993-2002, aims to introduce higher quality and efficiency in crop production (NEPA, 1993). About 10 per cent of China's desertified land has been rehabilitated in the past few decades, and the deterioration of another 12 per cent, mainly in northern China, has been halted by successful policy implementation. Afforestation in the Shaanxi province-on the southern edge of the Muus Sandland-has brought more than 330,000 hectares of shifting sand dunes under control and protected 100,000 hectares of farmland; vegetation coverage increased more than nine times from 1978 to 1987. (Up to 18 million hectares of land have been afforested through the "Three North" Shelter System, the Upper Yangtze River Shelter System, and the Coastal Shelter System).

Combating desertification features high in China's Agenda 21, approved by the Central Government in April 1994. Nationwide mapping and assessment of sandy desertification and water erosion have been carried out, and field experimental stations for the study and control of sandy desertification have been established. National and regional maps of geomorphology, land resources, and land use were completed in 1980, providing a basis for combating desertification and for rational land reclamation. A further 20 per cent of desertified land in the arid and semi-arid zones are targetted for rehabilitation by 2000, while another 32 million hectares severely affected by water erosion will be brought under control (Jinfa, 1994; UNEP, 1994).

In Australia, which has learned from past mistakes in land use management, restrictions have been placed on land clearing in most areas, and much of the native fauna is now protected. A taxation system is imposed to promote better land management, and soil conservation works are tax-deductible. Community-based action programmes are seen as crucial in dealing with land degradation and make up a major part of the National Landcare Programme. A joint effort of the National Farmers' Federation and the Australian Conservation Foundation resulted in a nationwide programme involving one third of all farm families in 2,200 land-care groups (Australia, 1994).

China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand have all enacted laws to minimize the impact of mining activities on land degradation and to ensure proper utilization of underground resources with minimum impact on the environment (ESCAP, 1995).

To tackle the problem of deforestation, national Governments have taken steps to protect forested areas, such as establishing forest parks and wildlife conservation areas, and afforestation. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 1990 Assessment, the rate of afforestation was higher in Asia and the Pacific in the 1980-90 period than in any other region of the world for which estimates are available. For example, from 1981 to 1990, an average of 525,000 hectares of forest was planted each year throughout the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. The annual percentage increase in plantation in South Asia during the same period was close to 30 per cent. As a result of a massive tree-planting programme in China, nearly 32 million hectares of forest had been established by 1990. The Pakistan Environmental Protection Council also launched a massive afforestation programme in 1995, aimed at increasing the country's forested area from 5 per cent to 10 per cent.

The Chipko movement has been active in parts of the Himalayan region of India since 1973. It is one of the most successful examples of people-oriented environmental restoration. The main aim of this movement, in which women play a key role, is tree protection and plantation. Similarly, the Appiko movement was launched to save the tropical forests of the Western Ghats. Since the National Forest Policy was established in India in 1988, considerable achievements have been registered, and net deforestation has been arrested (India, 1992b). In the Republic of Korea, the First 10-Year Forest Development Plan initiated in 1973 had a target of 1 million hectares of new plantations. The target was achieved ahead of schedule. At present, the Third National Forest Plan (1988-97) is under implementation and has proved very successful (Republic of Korea, 1992). In Malaysia, the National Forest Policy enacted in 1977 has been a major breakthrough in strengthening the institutional base for forest management and the co-operation between the Federal and State Governments (ESCAP, 1995).

Other examples of forest-related policies include the establishment of the Bhutan Trust Fund in March 1991 to ensure sustainable financing for the preservation of Bhutan's forestry and rich biological diversity (World Bank, 1992) and, in Nepal, the introduction of the National Forestry Plan in 1976 and a Master Plan (1986-89) to achieve the national policy goals of rehabilitating degraded forest resources through people's participation (Nepal, 1992). Indonesia's forest policy focuses mainly on improving the harvesting and regeneration of natural forests and on establishing industrial forest plantations in denuded and unproductive forestland. In Myanmar, the basic forest policy features sustainable timber production without depleting existing forest resources (ESCAP, 1995).

Despite all these programmes, rapid population growth has contributed to destruction of forest through land clearing for cultivation and the overharvesting of forest for fuelwood, roundwood, and fodder. At the current rate of harvesting, the remaining timber reserves in Asia will not last more than 40 years. Forest policies, therefore, still need to be strengthened and rigorously enforced, trade in forestry products needs to be controlled, and afforestation programmes need to expand to match deforestation rates. Agricultural productivity needs to be increased without further sacrificing the forested area-for example, through adoption of high-yielding crop varieties and improved management of water and agro-chemicals.

Governments in the region have responded actively to the issue of biodiversity by participating in biodiversity conventions and taking measures to protect biologically rich areas. Twenty-nine Asia-Pacific countries had ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity as of 1 May 1996. Progress in designating protected areas is widespread, with almost all countries in the region having established natural terrestrial and aquatic reserves in the form of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, gene pool reserves, and so on. A dramatic rise in the number and total area of protected areas in both South and South-East Asia has occurred. The Pacific region has also shown a major increase in the number of protected areas, although the development in this subregion has been less dramatic.

One example of a Government response to the Convention on Biological Diversity is the formulation of the National Action Plan on Biodiversity in India, led by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (India, 1994). India is also implementing various projects for ensuring the protection of animals and their habitats. Project Tiger, launched in 1973 in 23 Tiger Reserves and covering a total area of 3,049,700 hectares, succeeded in increasing the tiger population to 3,750 by 1993. Project Elephant, launched in 1991-92 to ensure the long-term survival of elephant populations, focuses on restoring lost and degraded habitats, mitigating human-elephant conflicts, and establishing a database of the migration and population dynamics of elephants. Project Crocodile was begun in 1976 to help save the three endangered crocodile species-fresh- and salt-water crocodiles and the rare gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) (India, 1992b and 1993).

Biotechnology research programmes (development of germplasm facilities, tissue culture pilot plants, biocontrol agents, biofertilizers, clean technologies, bioinformatics, and so on) have also become operational in India. Sacred groves, areas usually within temple compounds containing original flora and fauna, are being enhanced and preserved; these are commonly found in Western Ghats and north-eastern parts of India.

Different measures are being taken by many countries to meet the growing demands for clean and safe water and to safeguard water quality. These include water reuse/recycling, sea-water desalinization, demand-side management, interbasin transfers, leak detection programmes, differential payment rates, legislation, environmental impact assessment, establishment and enforcement of water and effluent standards, protection of wetlands, and use of economic incentives. Integrated watershed management programmes are also being implemented extensively.

Many countries in the region, including Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, and Singapore, use economic incentives and instruments, such as the "polluter pays" principle, tax rebates, tax write-offs, and other preventive measures, to encourage industries to reduce water pollution. Curative measures include river cleaning programmes. A notable example is the 10-year "clean river" programme initiated by the Singapore Government in 1977. The programme, costing US$200 million, has brought life back to the Singapore River and the Kallang Basin. Singapore's rivers today support aquatic life again with dissolved oxygen levels ranging from 2 to 4 milligrams per litre. The Government's goal is to reduce pollution further and to raise the dissolved oxygen level in all streams to 4 milligrams per litre by 2000 (Singapore, 1992). The cleanup of rivers has been made possible through improvements in wastewater treatment and the enforcement of stringent standards (ASEAN, 1995).

Since 1988, Hong Kong has undertaken river cleaning efforts, and river and stream water quality has shown steady improvement. Compared with the early 1980s, when only 35 per cent of rivers were rated "fair quality" or better, 74 per cent were in these categories by 1994 (ESCAP, 1995). Similarly, in Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city, a clean river campaign programme called PROKASIH has been instrumental in bringing greater public and political pressure to bear on industrial polluters. As a result, most industries have installed treatment facilities, and in some cases pollution loads have fallen by more than 50 per cent (ESCAP, 1995).

Other successful examples of cleanup programmes include the Ganga River Action Plan (GAP), launched in 1986, and the National River Action Plan (NRAP) in India. The first phase of GAP aimed to intercept, divert, and treat 870 million litres of sewage per day; 405 million litres per day had been diverted as of December 1991. The second phase of GAP covers sewage-related works as well as pollution abatement in additional towns on the main river Ganga. The Central Ganga Authority identified 68 industrial units as heavy polluters; by 1992, 43 had installed effluent plants and seven were in the process of doing so, while 10 units were closed down. The NRAP will involve cleanup projects for 14 grossly polluted stretches in nine rivers and 14 less polluted stretches in another eight rivers. Furthermore, the Survey of India has prepared a Water Quality Atlas, based on the data provided by the Central Pollution Control Board (India, 1992b).

A number of countries in the region have emphasized demand-side management for their water conservation policies. This includes rationalizing water prices, involving local communities in decentralized water management, and promoting public participation in water conservation. For instance, applying water conservation strategies has become popular in Beijing in both domestic and industrial sectors and has contributed savings of up to 30 per cent in overall consumption. Sea water is also increasingly replacing fresh water where appropriate for domestic purposes in Hong Kong (ESCAP, 1995).

The potential for the Asia-Pacific region to be affected by acid rain is significant. A strong scientific or public constituency to mitigate the potentially serious effects of acidification, such as damage to ecosystems and materials, does not exist. There is a need to intensify research on the emissions of air pollutants and their transboundary effects, to assess damage to ecosystems, and to install mitigation strategies (such as a sulphur protocol).

Numerous initiatives do exist in the region, however, to bring air pollution problems under control. (See Box 3.9.) Vehicular emissions are a significant problem in all major cities. The Government of the Philippines addresses this issue through plans to limit the number of vehicles on the road. Similar measures are being taken in Thailand.

India has implemented programmes setting emissions standards for vehicles, as well as requiring manufacturers to meet strict standards for all new vehicles. Significant penalties are imposed on violators. Since 1993, all new cars assembled by some companies in Malaysia contain catalytic converters to minimize vehicular emissions. In several countries, including the Philippines, unleaded gasoline has been widely introduced, and new vehicles are required to run on this fuel. Research on the use of gasohol (and other petroleum substitutes) and electric cars continues in many countries.

Other technological advances have also been made. In Japan, a new method to remove up to 95 per cent of sulphur dioxide and 80 per cent of nitrogen oxide from the combustion emissions of flue gas has been developed (ESCAP, 1995). Fly ash problems in India resulting from the burning of certain varieties of coal have been addressed through better washing techniques and use of the ash as fertilizer, bricks, material for road construction, and a replacement for sand to refill mines.

Indonesia's Environmental Impact Management Agency (BAPEDAL), a non-departmental Government Agency, has developed a marine and coastal pollution control programme to address problems of this type. It includes pollution control in seaports and tourist beaches, and tanker service zones in the Malaya, Macassar, and Lombok straits (Indonesia, 1995). In India, the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) conducts research on biotechnological methods to clean up oil spills and protect marine resources (ESCAP, 1995).

India's renewable energy programme is a good example of the region's efforts to develop alternative energy sources. Both biogas electricity and wind power have emerged as significant and dependable renewable energy sources. The Indian Government is helping to finance both capital and maintenance costs of the early stages of operation of community biogas plants (India, 1992a). A comprehensive survey of its wind energy resources and environmental audits has also been carried out at all refineries as part of India's energy conservation programmes (TERI, 1992).

Participation of the private sector in environmental management is increasing throughout the region. In Japan, businesses are among the most active players in the region's environmental technology research and development (R&D) activities, accounting for more than 60 per cent of national R&D spending. A 1991 survey by Nihon Keizai Shimbun found that 88 per cent of the 144 major firms covered had established environmental divisions. Japanese industry is a world leader in the growing market for flue-gas desulphurization and denitrification equipment, as well as clean motor vehicle technology. Japan also puts major effort into the field of clean energy, including photovoltaic power and fuel cells, and the development of new technologies such as carbon dioxide recovery facilities and chlorofluorocarbon-free production processes (ESCAP, 1995).

Japan's private agencies have also been heavily involved in funding Government research agencies such as the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for Earth (RITE), which mainly funds and conducts R&D related to global warming. Nine of Japan's largest steelmakers are involved in a project to increase the use of scrap in steel making, and the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) has set standards for making vehicle plastic parts to promote easy recycling. Operations known as "consumer co-operatives" have become a powerful force in Japan to popularize "green products," including recyclable, biodegradable, rechargeable, ozone-friendly, and unleaded products (ESCAP, 1995).

Box 3.9.

An Example: Thailand: Air Pollution from a Lignite Power Plant

Thailand's largest lignite-fired power plant is located in the Mae Moh district, Lam Pang province, north of Bangkok. With 11 generating units and a total production capacity of 2,625 megawatts, approximately 15 million tons of lignite are needed to run the machines. Prior to 1992, the plant emitted considerable amounts of air pollutants through high smoke stacks and discharged wastewater into its immediate surroundings.

High atmospheric pressure in October 1992 caused sulphur dioxide (SO2) generated from the plant to drift above Mae Moh district. Analysis showed that rainwater had 50 per cent higher sulphate concentration levels as compared with acceptable international standards, and at peak pollution levels, more than 2,000 micrograms per cubic metre of SO2 were found inthe air. High levels of toxic acid rain continued in the locality until January 1993. The October 1992 pollution episode caused widespread damage. More than 900 people had difficulty breathing and experienced sore throats and other related illnesses. Domestic livestock also suffered, some becoming ill or dying. Cash crops and trees were destroyed or experienced subsequent growth problems. The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) had to compensate rural households for losses, and affected persons were resettled in safer areas. EGAT had to reduce production by almost 60 per cent (to 800 megawatts) while negotiations with affected parties went on.Several measures were implemented to avoid future problems: approximately US$280 million was invested in pollution control, a limit was imposed on the scale of operation, and the quality of coal was improved by mixing it with high-quality coal. Due to the implementation of prompt control measures, air quality in the vicinity of the plant was under control by late 1993 to early 1994.

The SO2 concentration had been reduced to within 300 micrograms per cubic metre by then. This case illustrates the need for thorough environmental impact assessments of large investment projects. It shows that good management can effectively reduce potential environmental hazards. It also illustrates the high costs associated with combating the adverse environmental effects of improperly planned operations.

Reference Office of Environmental Protection and Planning (OEPP)-Thailand. Personal communication. 1996.

Region-wide efforts also exist on eco-labelling. Singapore launched a Green Label scheme in May 1992 to help consumers identify products that are environment-friendly. The scheme sets specific guidelines for the manufacturing, distribution, usage, and disposal of products. When these are met, a Green Label logo is awarded by the Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from the private sector, academic institutions, and statutory organizations (ESCAP, 1995).

China and India adopted a system of environmental labels in 1993. To date, China has drafted standards for seven types of products and plans to launch the environmental label system for such products as household refrigeration appliances, aerosol products, degradable plastic film, non-leaded gasoline for cars, and water-solvent paints in the near future. India has so far prepared ECOMARK criteria for 14 product categories: soap and detergents, paper, paints, plastics, lubricating oil, aerosols, food items, packaging materials, wood substitutes, textiles, cosmetics, electrical and electronic goods, food additives, and batteries (India, 1992b).

There has been growing recognition of the significance of disaster preparedness, prevention, and mitigation measures. Initiatives have already been taken in many countries to address the issue through a comprehensive framework of institutions, plans, programmes, and legislation (ESCAP, 1995). Over the years, Japan has developed a very efficient organizational framework to reduce the effects of natural disasters; relevant activities are overseen by a high-level committee under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister.

Several other countries have similarly set up committees and councils to co-ordinate, plan, and formulate policies and actions, such as natural disaster forecasts, management, and post-disaster relief and rehabilitation work: India has constituted a Cabinet Committee on Natural Calamities;Bangladesh has set up the Natural Disaster Prevention Council, chaired by the President; Sri Lanka has appointed a Cabinet Sub-committee; Myanmar has set up the Relief and Resettlement Department under the Ministry of Social Welfare; Indonesia has established a National Coordination Board for Natural Disaster Preparedness and Relief; China has constituted an interministerial co-ordination committee; Papua New Guinea has a National Disaster and Emergency Services Department; and the Philippines has formed the National Disaster Coordination Council, consisting of several ministries, Governments, and non-governmental groups (ESCAP, 1995).

With regard to forecasting, early warning, risk assessment, and mapping of climatic and water-related hazards, substantial progress has been made. China in recent years has made remarkable achievements in monitoring a wide range of natural disasters through application of aviation and satellite remote sensing and terrestrial sensing technologies (ESCAP, 1995). In India, 10 high-power cyclone detection radar stations have been installed along the east and west coasts of the country, and plans exist to extend cyclone warning systems to all vulnerable areas. The Republic of Korea also has a well-established disaster-related forecasting and warning network (ESCAP, 1995).

In Thailand, flood and landslide risk maps are being prepared for the vulnerable southern part of the country, and a flood modelling programme is being implemented for southern and north-eastern areas. Malaysia has initiated programmes on flood forecasting, warning, preparedness, and relief. It has also developed flood-proof structures as well as catchment development and flood plain management strategies. A project has recently been completed under which 20 river basins in the country have been equipped with telemetric systems for flood monitoring and warning (ESCAP, 1995).

Japan constantly observes, predicts, and issues warnings of potential earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, storm events, tsunamis, typhoons, and flood-related disasters. Earthquake prediction has been systematically carried out since 1964, and the country is implementing its 7th Earthquake Prediction Plan (1994-98). As a result, it has designated certain areas for intensified observation (Japan, 1987). In Australia, a comprehensive personal computer-based cyclone warning system was introduced in Perth, Darwin, and Brisbane in November 1990. To cope with the exceptional droughts in Australia, the National Drought Policy was formulated in 1992; it includes a range of measures such as the introduction of sustainable agriculture, drought preparedness, financial assistance for farmers exposed to exceptional drought circumstances, and drought-related research with an emphasis on drought prediction, monitoring, and management (IDIC, 1995).

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