United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Asia Pacific Bucks World Trend in Forest Cover

UNEP`s Keeping Track Report Tracks Wider Environmental Change in Region

Bangkok -- While global forest cover is moving on a downward spiral with a loss of nearly 130 million hectares of forest worldwide, Asia Pacific's forest cover has grown by some 24 million hectares over 20 years. Seven million of Asia's forests have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, according a new UNEP report released today.

'This region accounts for nearly half of global trend emissions,' said Young-Woo Park, Regional Director of UNEP Regional Officer for Asia and the Pacific. 'Forest cover is a big contribution to carbon sequestration, and will help increase Asia Pacific's contribution to tackling climate change.

'Twenty-four million hectares is equivalent to many megatonnes in greenhouse gas emissions, and if the region continues to expand its' forest cover, this number can only grow in coming years,' he added.

Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment in Asia Pacific tracks how countries have done in terms of development and environment since 1992, when countries around the globe committed to sustainable development at the UN Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

It found that Asia Pacific has done well in a number of areas: poverty reduction, forest cover, access to drinking water, marine and terrestrial protected areas, phase-out of ozone depleting chemicals, gross national income and women's representation in parliaments.

On the other hand, the region is increasingly dependent on materials from abroad, especially fossil fuels and ores; is prone to extreme weather events that cost billions in damages; and is faced with increasing urban waste generation that could reach 1.8 million tonnes daily by 2025.

'This region is the engine for economic growth and will shape the development path of the world. While the current model of development will speed up poverty reduction and human wellbeing in the region, if we are not prudent, it could come at the cost of environment quality which in turn could impinge on the wellbeing of people in this region,' Dr. Park said.

According to the report, the region is on mark to meet and possibly exceed the drinking water target of the Millennium Development Goals but lags behind in access to improved sanitation. Improved sanitation was at the 51 per cent mark, leaving nearly two million people without access.

Asia Pacific's water withdrawal for irrigation, which accounts for more than 90 per cent of the world's total withdrawal, was cited as a key factor contributing to water scarcity.

Asia and the Pacific's economy continued to rise at a rapid rate. Since 1992, the region's developing countries' GDP per capita had increased by 265 per cent, from US$800 to almost US$3,000 in 2010, or 7.45 per cent per year on average. This has made great inroads to poverty reduction, and lifted about 800 million out of poverty.

The region also saw an increase in efforts to 'decouple' CO2 emissions (reduction of emissions per unit of GDP) from 1992 to 2006. Improvements were seen in 31 per cent in developing countries and 29 per cent in more developed countries.

Other findings of the report include:

  • By 2010, 10 out of 21 megacities were found in Asia: Tokyo, Delhi, Mumbai, Shanghai, Kolkota, Dhaka, Karachi, Beijing, Manila, and Osaka-Kobe .By 2020, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Guangzhou of China and Jakarta of Indonesia are projected to become megacities.
  • In 1992, 985 million of Asia and the Pacific's population lived in urban areas, representing 42 per cent of the world's total urban population. By 2009, the number had climbed to 1,585 million, representing a 60 per cent increase since 1992, or 46 per cent of the world's total urban population.
  • Compared to 1992, the use of materials in Asia and the Pacific has more than doubled from 17.4 billion tonnes to over 37.4 billion tonnes in 2008. Percentage wise, the consumption of construction materials grew fastest (176 per cent), followed by metal ores and industrial materials (130 per cent) and fossil fuels (106 per cent), with the slowest growth occurring in biomass (47 per cent).
  • Between 1992 and 2008, Asia and the Pacific CO2 emissions increased by nearly 7.5 thousand million tonnes (or about 114 per cent), up from about 7 to almost 15 thousand million tonnes. By 2008, the region was responsible for over 45 per cent of the global total CO2 emissions, representing over 83 per cent of the world's total increase.
  • In 2011 ten out of 32 weather disasters worldwide with more than 1 billion-dollar damage occurred in Asia and the Pacific, specifically Thailand, Australia, China, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Japan
  • In 2008, the region's improved drinking water coverage increased to 86 per cent and will meet or exceed the MDG drinking water target by 2015 if the current trend continues. However, in 2008, the region's improved sanitation coverage was only about 51 per cent, up from about 37 per cent in 1990, representing nearly 2,000,000 million people still without access.
  • In Asia and the Pacific, the World Bank estimates the waste generation in urban areas between 450,000 and 760,000 tonnes per day and by 2025, this would reach at about 1.8 million tonnes per day
  • It was estimated that between 1990 and 2005, 55-60 per cent of oil palm expansion in Malaysia and Indonesia occurred at the expense of virgin tropical forests.By 2010, the oil palm plantation areas in Malaysia and Indonesia reach 76 per cent of the world's total, and the palm oil export from the two countries exceed 90 per cent.
  • In 2010, Asia and the Pacific's terrestrial and marine protected area combined was more than 4 million km2, an increase of nearly 40 per cent since 1992

The report, 'Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment in Asia Pacific', can be downloaded at: http://unep.org/pdf/AP%20Keeping%20Track_rev%2019%20Dec.pdf

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