United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Integration and Investment Crucial to Sustainable Development in Asia Pacific - UNEP Chief, Achim Steiner Speech to the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development

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Bangkok -- The SDGs offer a new pathway, one that will harness the impressive ingenuity and industriousness of the region to maintain, and even accelerate, the economic miracle, while ensuring that society develops, poverty is reduced, and the environment is conserved.

H.E. General Tanasak Patimapragon, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Royal Government of Thailand

Ms Shamshad Akhtar, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP

Mr Mukhisa Kituyi, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Secretary-General, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

Esteemed Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here today at the second session of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development. Please allow me to extend my gratitude to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) for convening this meeting, and to all of you present today for these significant deliberations.

You are here to provide Asia Pacific's input to the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) 2015, as the final pieces slide into place ahead of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) and Agenda in September.

The SDGs are far more than the Millennium Development Goals 2.0. This is a new, universally applicable, transformative agenda with an integrated approach - one which recognizes that environmental, societal and economic challenges are intertwined and cannot be addressed individually.

Part of the discussions in the coming days will focus precisely on how this integration will work in the Asia Pacific region. When one considers the growth trajectory of the region, I am sure you will agree this is vital - not just to the region, but to the overall sustainable development agenda.

This centrality to the process comes, of course, from the size and diversity of Asia Pacific-home to 60 per cent of the world's population and 66 per cent of the world's poor.

So far, development in this huge region has often focused only on the economic pillar of sustainable development. This has brought impressive growth and lifted millions out of poverty, but at the cost of a strained and deteriorating environment, increased inequality, environment-linked illnesses, and unsustainable resource use.

A new UNEP report, Indicators for a Resource Efficient and Green Asia and the Pacific, released two days ago during the First Forum of Ministers & Environment Authorities of Asia Pacific, presents a fascinating picture of these growth patterns.

Despite significant improvements in resource efficiency in the past decades, which I applaud, rising consumption from a growing population and middle class means absolute levels of resource use are growing rapidly - at 5 per cent annually, faster than the rest of the world.

The use of materials in the region increased yearly from 5.7 billion to 37 billion tonnes between 1970 and 2010, compared to global consumption of 70 billion tonnes in 2010.

The region's demand for electricity, gas and transport fuel, mainly met from coal and petroleum, has increased more than four times over the past 40 years, largely due to rapid urbanization in China.

This, of course, brings with it increased greenhouse gas emissions-which is a concern given that Asia Pacific is highly vulnerable to extreme weather events and other adverse impacts of climate change. Natural disasters, including the catastrophic typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, cost Asia Pacific countries more than US$60bn a year - with the human cost much higher.

Just this last month, Nepal was devastated not once, but twice within a matter of weeks by earthquakes that left more than 8,500 dead and scores injured. The people of Nepal have shown great resolve in efforts to rebuild their nation. Nepal has been investing in ecosystem-based development. The continued application of these approaches in infrastructure reconstruction and ecosystem rehabilitation following this disaster can also contribute to greater resilience against climatic variability and natural hazards.

The SDGs offer a new pathway, one that will harness the impressive ingenuity and industriousness of the region to maintain, and even accelerate, the economic miracle, while ensuring that society develops, poverty is reduced, and the environment is conserved.

This is integration.

The benefits of investing in the environment

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is no doubt that investing in the environment is critical to delivering the SDGs. Environmental sustainability is not only an end in itself, but a means to achieve sustained socioeconomic development and poverty reduction.

This is because the environmental resource base provides livelihoods and economic benefits to so many people, particularly the poor whom the sustainable development agenda aims to lift into a life of dignity.

Please allow me to offer you some examples related to the draft SDG goals.

SDG1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere

In Asia Pacific, the fishery and aquaculture sector makes a significant contribution to national poverty reduction and agricultural Gross Domestic Product: representing 23 per cent in Cambodia, 20 per cent in the Philippines, 24 per cent in Bangladesh, and 13 per cent in Indonesia.

SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all the ages

According to the World Health Organization, low- and middle-income countries in the South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions had the largest air pollution-related burden in 2012, with a total of 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution.

Changing practices will bring obvious health and economic benefits. For example, the estimated benefits of the air-quality management plan in the Republic of Korea in terms of preventing premature deaths may be as high as $US 900 million per year.

SDG 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Lack of access to energy is a constraint to human and economic development. Yet some 70 per cent of Pacific Island households do not have electricity.

At the same time, according to the 2014 Global Status Report on Renewables, excluding China and India where annual investment continued its uninterrupted rise, the Asia-Oceania region saw renewable energy investment increase by 47 per cent over 2012 to a record high of US$43.3 billion.

This highlights huge potential in renewable development, which can bring energy to everyone without increasing greenhouse gas emissions - as well as delivering health benefits by reducing air pollution.

I could give examples related to every goal, but the key point to consider is that we can bring massive gains across the board by recognizing the benefits well-functioning ecosystems bring to humanity, in both economic, societal cultural terms.

Financing change

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This year, of course, brings the historic opportunity to take full advantage of these benefits in a sustainable manner. In addition to the SDG process, and the climate change meeting in December, the outcome of which will have a significant impact on sustainable development. You are meeting in July in Addis Ababa for the 3rd International Conference on Financing for Sustainable Development.

It is the final element, the one of financing, upon which I wish to touch in some more depth. We can all agree that a more sustainable pathway is required across the globe, but this shift needs to be funded from public and private sources-to the tune of some US$2.5 trillion in annual sustainable development investments for Asia Pacific alone between 2013 and 2030, according to UNESCAP estimates.

These investments include:

  • US$500-800 billion to close gaps in education, health, employment, social protection and basic access to energy services.
  • US$800-$900 billion for developing infrastructure for energy, transport, telecommunications and water and sanitation.
  • US$500-800 billion for climate change mitigation and renewable energy.

In order to meet these needs, the entire financial system - comprising more than US$250 trillion dollars in assets - needs to be deployed to make our economies green, inclusive, and fit for purpose in delivering on improved human well-being and equitable development.

There is growing momentum on this issue in Asia-Pacific.

In late April, at the Asia-Pacific High-Level Consultation on Financing for Development in Jakarta, 40 countries noted the importance of strengthening domestic regulatory policies and institutions, and addressing systemic global issues, to support a predictable, stable and resilient platform for finance.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is indeed tremendous scope for making the existing financial system more sustainable by ensuring the environment is integrated - that key word and concept again.

The UNEP Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System has identified many innovations - such as sustainable banking, green bonds, and mainstreaming the environment into national budgeting processes - to promote a more sustainable financial system.

These are innovations in which Ministries of Environment can play an advocacy and advisory role in partnership with Central Banks, Ministries of Finance and the private sector.

We are already seeing a growing number of examples:

  • Sustainable banking: Bangladesh, China and Indonesia have demonstrated the potential of establishing 'green credit' risk management and reporting requirements, offering green fiscal incentives and considering variations in capital weightings to account for mispriced environmental risks and broader policy needs.
  • Stock exchanges: The Stock Exchanges of Thailand, Singapore and others have led in the region in requiring listed companies to provide investors with material information about their social and environmental performance;
  • Mainstreaming environment into national budgeting processes: This would help assess and reallocate spending to achieve national environmental and climate change priorities. Examples include carbon emissions tagging systems in the national budget, as developed by the Ministry of Finance in Indonesia, sustainable public procurement, and Climate Public Expenditure and Institutional Reviews.

Asia Pacific's developing financial and capital markets also provide a unique opportunity for innovative financial and capital market policies, regulations and standards that can align private capital flows to the financing needs of sustainable development.

Notably, the region's savings, US$8.4 trillion in 2012, represent more than half of the world's total savings. The channeling of these savings to green investments would make a significant difference to regional and international progress towards sustainable development.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We will need to work together to deliver the SDGs as we tackled the many tasks ahead, such as: the creation of national policies and programmes that reflect the relevance of environmental sustainability in the social and economic dimensions of sustainable development, robust public financial policy for mobilizing private and domestic finance, the strengthening of scientific and technical knowledge, and mainstreaming the SDGs into national planning and governance structures.

Asia Pacific has a golden opportunity to show leadership in all of these fields, which will be reflected in global processes. The Forum of Ministers and this gathering represent a chance to shape a strengthened common voice. In fact, the UN organized these two meeting back-to-back to reflect the integrated nature of the agenda and our one UN approach to supporting countries.

I fully believe that Asia Pacific is ready to lead the global charge, as it has already done in relation to SDG12 on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns (SCP).

While resource use may have grown, Asia Pacific was the first to agree on a regional roadmap for implementation of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns (10YFP). This roadmap has established a foundation to mobilize technical and financial resources, and has built momentum for the political will to develop and implement sectoral Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) policies.

Through regional programmes such as SWITCH-Asia, many developing countries in the region have scaled up their implementation of SCP policies such as Sustainable Public Procurement, Consumer information, Sustainable Tourism, Education for Sustainable Lifestyles and Sustainable Buildings.

Over the next two days, I believe I will see more of this leadership as you formulate your inputs for HLPF 2015. I look forward to hearing your ideas, and to further and deeper collaboration this year and in the exciting period beyond.

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