The first high-level major environmental conference since last December's devastating Indian Ocean tsunami opened today in Seoul, Republic of Korea, under United Nations auspices with a warning that high economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region is environmentally unsustainable.
"We cannot continue with a 'grow first, clean up later' policy," the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Kim Hak-Su told the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development in Asia and the Pacific. "We need a new paradigm, a balance of economic growth and 'green growth.'"
He told delegates from 53 countries attending the six-day meeting that while the region's recent spectacular economic growth has contributed to the reduction of poverty and social progress in many places, "it has also placed increasingly high pressure on the region's environmental resources beyond its carrying capacity."
Industrial production in the region increased by almost 40 per cent as compared with a global increase of 23 per cent from 1995 to 2002. Increasing economic growth itself is placing enormous pressure on environmental carrying-capacity. In order to grow without jeopardizing environmental sustainability, not only pollution control but improvement of eco-efficiency of production and consumption are necessary.
Mr. Kim congratulated governments for efforts to boost environmental performance, which have resulted in improvements in urban air quality in some cities, slowed rates of forest loss, increased forest planting rates and considerably reduced the use of ozone-depleting substances.
"On the other hand we still observe with concern declines in fishery resources, degradation of marine and coastal resources, loss of biodiversity and forests, land degradation and natural disasters," he said. "Deterioration of these natural resources have continued to affect human health and livelihoods, and increased the vulnerability of many economies."
The Conference, organized by ESCAP under the theme this year of "Achieving environmentally sustainable economic growth in Asia and the Pacific," is held once in every five years. Thirty-one Ministers in charge of the environment will take part in the Ministerial Segment set for 28 to 29 March.