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Asia-Pacific environment at boiling point; green growth crucial, UN report warns

Asia-Pacific environment at boiling point; green growth crucial, UN report warns

Asian and Pacific societies are already living beyond their ecological means, and if they are to continue their much-needed economic expansion, they will have to shift towards efficient ‘green growth’ patterns, according to a new United Nations report released today.

Meeting human development needs based on current ‘grow first, clean up later’ economic growth patterns is likely to result in mounting ecological problems, according to the latest regional State of the Environment report published by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

Problems cited include a population density 1.5 times the global average, the lowest freshwater availability per capita of all global regions, a biologically productive area per capita that is less than 60 per cent of the global average, and arable and permanent crop land per capita that is less than 80 per cent the global average.

Meanwhile several highly polluting industries are growing more rapidly in regional developing countries than in regional developed countries, agro-industry is highly chemical-, energy- and water-intensive and, as incomes increase, lifestyles are becoming increasingly waste- and energy- intensive.

While plantation forests advance, natural forests are retreating, especially in South-East Asia, water extraction rates are already unsustainably high in at least 16 countries and irrigation systems, the biggest user of water, are highly inefficient and poorly maintained in most countries.

The long term sustainability of the water supply is further threatened by climate change, which may increase the severity and incidence of drought and cause long-term reductions in water flows in freshwater systems dependent on glacier melt.

The report stresses that more economic growth is needed and inevitable, as nearly 670 million people are living on less than $1 a day, 665 million have no access to improved drinking water but countries must meet the series of looming development challenges.

Countries in South Asia, over 40 per cent of the region’s population, will face some of the toughest issues in coming decades as population growth, changing water regimes and climates, and rising demand for energy, water and other necessities all come to a head.

The report finds that, on the one hand, pollution control in production is becoming more effective and market forces are pushing firms towards greater resource efficiency as the prices of natural resources spiral upwards. On the other hand, as incomes increase and as globalization spreads, consumption patterns become less environmentally sustainable, making more eco-efficient consumption crucial.