Green Growth in Asia and the Pacific

he Tsunami disaster in December 2004 was a wake-up call for the environment. Although it was a natural disaster it reminded us all that the environment is extremely fragile so is the income derived from marketing the environment.
Ministers and Senior Officials of Environment and Development Portfolios from all around the Asia Pacific region meet in Seoul from 24 to 29 March to address the critical issue of our time ensuring environmentally sustainable economic growth or "green growth".
It is the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development in Asia and Pacific, which is convened by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific with the Republic of Korea as hosts and in partnership with other international organizations.
Clearly, many international conferences on the theme of sustainable development have taken place in previous years. Thus far, international discussions have provided decision makers with a common language of sustainable development. This conference takes that concept and asserts that sustainable development must be achieved through "green growth".
For many years now, decision makers have known that preserving the environment for future generations is one of the major tasks we face. The signs that we are exceeding environmental carrying capacity are all around us - from air pollution, climate change, ozone depletion, biodiversity loss and acid rain. It is no longer time to discuss these problems we must accept they exist and move to the positive agenda of how to solve them. The other major task of decision makers, especially in the Asia Pacific region, is to reduce poverty. But most believe that this requires economic growth. The critical challenge then, is to find ways to ensure that economic growth is transformed "green growth" is what we now must achieve.
The Asia Pacific region is experiencing the fastest economic growth of any region in the world. Asia and the Pacific is also home to over half the world's population and over two thirds of the world's poor. Economic growth is necessary to reduce poverty, yet is unsustainable in its current form. Dramatic economic growth in past decades has enabled reductions in poverty and enhanced social progress in parts of the region. However, rapid increases in industrial and agricultural production, as well as rising levels of consumption, have placed unsupportable demands on the environment - some estimates predict that for the whole world to enjoy developed country levels of consumption we would require the bio-capacity of three or more planets like the Earth.
Thus, it is imperative to address this challenge squarely and find ways to pursue economic growth, while maintaining and improving environmental sustainability.
"Green growth" is a paradigm focusing on reducing the increasing environmental pressure arising from economic growth, thus enabling economic growth to reduce poverty while ensuring consumption and production is maintained within environmental carrying capacity.
"Green growth" requires us to reduce the environmental pressure of economic growth by improving the ecological efficiency of production and consumption patterns and creating positive win-win synergies between the economy and the environment.
Solutions integrated into economic structures are the only solutions that can bring about a change in production and consumption patterns on a scale large enough to make a real, measurable difference. Having recognized that, we need to have regional discussions on these practical ways to bring about "green growth" and challenge ministers to make concrete commitments for green growth in the Asia Pacific region.
So what are some of the ways that green growth can be achieved?
Ultimately, green growth requires that environmental considerations are integrated into economic planning and processes. It requires that economic development reinforce environmental sustainability and in some cases gives rise to new opportunities for economic development.
More concretely, bringing about "green growth" will require the use of tools such as internalization of environmental costs, improving the eco-efficiency of production and consumption patterns that, is focusing on limiting demand rather than simply increasing supply of services such as energy, water and transportation infrastructure, and encouraging investment in and development of business opportunities arising from environmentally sound technologies. There are numerous examples that illustrate how green growth can become a reality, and many of these will be illustrated at the conference.
What we need now is for governments to implement green growth on an ambitious scale. Only then can economic development, poverty reduction and environmental preservation work, hand in hand, for the benefit of us all including future generations.
In order to accelerate and coordinate the required action from the conference we adopt Seoul Initiative for Green Growth. We expect this document to serve as a guideline for indicating the road we need to take as well as a springboard for tangible action. Adopting this document in Seoul is significant. The Republic of Korea has achieved rapid economic growth, allowing the country to be free from extreme poverty something many countries in our region are still struggling to cope with.
However, the country has been also experiencing the deterioration of environmental sustainability, and the continuation of social conflicts between environmental and development needs. While we gradually shift our strategy and practice into a path of economic development that take the environment into account, our experiences can be a lesson for our Asia and the Pacific community.
Korea has also become an important source of financial, human and technical assistance in this region, and has considerable potential to play a stronger and better role in meeting socioeconomic and environmental needs of our region.
Mr. Kim Hak-su, is executive secretary of the Bangkok-based 62-member United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). nw

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