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New Regional Initiatives

There are encouraging signs that developing Asia is taking environmental sustainability very seriously, and at earlier stages of development than occurred in the West. China, the largest and fastest growing developing-country economy in the world, has adopted the concept of the “circular economy”. The idea is to cut use of basic materials dramatically, by boosting recycling and re-use – one facility’s waste, including energy, water and materials, becomes another facility’s input. In the circular economy, all economic activities pursue low resource exploitation, maximum efficiency in using materials and energy, and low waste generation. Comprehensive legislation, policy and technology innovation mechanisms will be introduced to promote the circular economy. The Government of China has set the following key targets for 2010 (China State Council 2005) using 2003 indicators as the baseline:

● Resource productivity per tonne of energy, iron and other resources    increased by 25 per cent.
● Energy consumption per unit of GDP decreased by 18 per cent.
● Average water use efficiency for agricultural irrigation improved by up to 50    per cent.
● Reuse rate of industrial solid waste raised above 60 per cent.
● Recycle and reuse rate for major renewable resources increased by 65 per cent.
● Final industrial solid waste disposal limited to about 4 500 million tonnes.

Japan is promoting a similar initiative known as the 3Rs (Reducing waste, Reusing products, and Recycling resources). A ministerial conference was held in April 2005 in Tokyo to launch the initiative globally. Japan’s key national targets for 2010 include improving GDP per unit of material input by 39 per cent (compared with the base year of 2000), improving the proportion
of re-used and recycled material in material input from ten per cent to 14 per cent, and reducing the amount of waste that needs to be disposed off from 56 million tonnes to 28 million tonnes (Koike 2005). At regional level, the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development in Asia and the Pacific was held in Seoul, Republic of Korea, in March 2005, with the theme of achieving environmentally sustainable economic growth. The 52 countries endorsed environmentally sustainable economic growth as the way for the future (UNESCAP 2005). The meeting issued a comprehensive Ministerial Declaration on Environment and Development, created a Regional Implementation Plan for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific, and established the Seoul Initiative Network on Green Growth, as a policy forum and capacity-building mechanism for sustainable development in the region (UNESCAP 2005).

Box 3: A new family of mammals
A new mammal family was created – the first in over 30 years – to accommodate the discovery in Central Laos of a new species of rodent, Laonastes aenigmamus, The rat was discovered in the Khammouan Limestone Biodiversity Conservation Area in May 2005. The Laotian rock rat, or Kha-nyou as it is known locally, is not related to any other species of rodent, and the new family Laonastidae, was created to accommodate it. The last new mammal family was created in 1974 with the discovery of the bumblebee bat in Thailand.
Source: Jenkins and others 2005
Box 4: Major river pollution incident in northeast China
A chemical plant explosion on 13 November 2005 in Jilin Province, in northeast China, severely polluted one of China’s biggest rivers, the Songhua River. Experts estimate that around 100 tonnes of pollutants containing benzene flowed into the river, causing water supplies to be cut for millions of people in cities along the river for various periods. Harbin, a city of more than three million residents, stopped drawing water from the Songhua River for four days after the incident. On 14 November 2005, one monitoring station near the chemical plant confirmed that the content of nitrobenzene in the polluted water exceeded the national safe standard by 100 times. The polluted water is expected to flow into the Heilongjiang River (called the Amur River in Russia) on the Sino-Russian border. China and Russia are working closely to minimize the potential impact of pollution on Russia, including intensifying monitoring and water quality control measures.
Sources: SEPA 2005, Xinhuanet 2005a, Xinhuanet 2005b
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