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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

15 June 2023


Excellency Mr. Jin Park, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea,

Excellency Mr. Jin-pyo Kim, Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea,

Honourable Mr. Inyoung Lee, Member of Parliament and Chair of APPCED,

Honourable Deputies and Senators, Distinguished participants, Colleagues,

It is a pleasure to join you at the 20th Asia-Pacific Parliamentarians Conference on Environment and Development. 

This conference convenes at a time of impending crisis for our environment, and the role of parliamentarians is critical if we are to respond to the many impacts and accelerate progress towards sustainable development in our region.  

Asia and the Pacific is off-track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially the environment-related ones. Ocean health, clean water, biodiversity and building sustainable communities,  which requires balancing urbanization and nature, are all lagging in progress. Responsible consumption of natural resources and climate action are actually regressing. 

Nowhere is the global climate crisis more immediate or more visible than in our region. Climate-induced disasters occur more frequently, with increasing force, leaving lives lost and disrupted communities in their wake.

The Asia-Pacific region accounts for more than 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Our region’s economic growth has for decades been powered mostly by fossil fuels, and we now see the consequences. Climate change puts our region’s continued growth and sustainable development in jeopardy. 

Low carbon transitions are the core of climate action, and ambitious policies and legislation are needed to make the transitions a reality. Three sectors are priorities to generate necessary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions: energy, transport and industry.  

About 85 per cent of the region’s energy comes from fossil fuels; thus, we need nothing less than a rapid and complete transformation of our power sector. 

Restructuring of national energy systems, new technical capacities and investments to make renewable energy more affordable and accessible are necessary, and we must, in parallel, also counter growing energy demands with greater efficiency.

The transport sector accounts for over a quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions in the Asia-Pacific region.  

Business as usual will lead to a rapid increase in emissions if we do not implement low-carbon solutions, including better public transport and improving vehicle and fuel efficiency and shifts to electrification – powered by renewables.

Nearly three-quarters of global GHG emissions from manufacturing and construction are generated in our region, reflecting both the industrial sector’s importance in global value chains, but also the potential for reductions from transitions. 

Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, establishing carbon pricing and integrating climate considerations in regional trade agreements are key priorities. 

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Your role as parliamentarians to enact appropriate legislation and engage stakeholders is essential if we are to raise ambitions, deliver on the net-zero pledges many countries have made, and ensure a low-carbon future in our region. 

Yet the climate crisis is but one of the environmental challenges our region faces.

Closely linked to the climate challenge is the clean air crisis we all face. Ninety-two per cent of our population breathes unclean air. The range of sources, from fossil fuel and biomass burning to vehicle emissions to industrial and construction activities, vary across our region.

Still, the costs to our economies and to the health of populations are common. The burdens of air pollution-- as with many burdens -- fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable and marginalized in our societies. 

Adopting stronger air quality standards and regulations is critical. The good news is that ESCAP member States recently adopted the Regional Action Programme on Air Pollution to enhance cooperation on standards, sharing of data, exchange of best practices and capacity building. 

Regional cooperation is the only means to combat transboundary air pollution, and all member States must take an active role to ensure that clean air is universal.

Asia and the Pacific has been home to the most remarkably rich biodiversity, unlike any other region. Yet our development patterns and climate change are threatening its natural capital, risking the extinction of many species by mid-century. Our food, land and ocean systems need better management to protect our unique natural resources and heritage.

The explosion of plastic pollution in our waterways, coastlines and the ocean has diminished our region’s pristine beauty. We need to enact better policies to regulate our waste, invest in and commit to circular economy approaches and raise awareness across our region, which generates more marine plastic pollution than any other region. 

Globally the amount of plastic waste in marine ecosystems could triple by 2040, with disproportionate impacts in Asia and the Pacific.

Following the adoption of an historic resolution at the UN Environment Assembly in February 2022, member States are now negotiating a legally binding agreement on plastic pollution. The agreement is expected to be completed by the end of 2024, and parliaments may be essential to ensure it is enacted and enforced. 

The success of the intergovernmental negotiating process has enormous consequences and significant potential benefits for our region. We hope all governments will fully support the development of this agreement.   

Many of these threats -- climate, energy, air pollution, waste, biodiversity loss -- come from the way we are urbanizing. We know that sprawl, poorly planned cities and a lack of infrastructure investment all contribute to the very environmental challenges I have highlighted. 

Sound urban policies that encourage an integrated approach to energy, transport, housing, waste and urban-rural dynamics will lead to a better balance of environment and development. Your support is needed. 

ESCAP’s 8th Asia-Pacific Urban Forum, to be held in Suwon from 23 to 25 October, will focus on pathways to more sustainable urban development, and I invite you all to attend. 

Distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

While the environmental challenges in Asia and the Pacific may seem daunting, we know that our region is also synonymous with innovation. 

From the development and deployment of technologies, such as the GEMS satellite to track air pollutants, to paperless trade that creates efficiencies and reduces environmental impacts to some of the best public transport systems in the world, our region has proven time and again its capacities to develop innovative solutions.  Now is the time to accelerate innovation.

We need leadership to facilitate such solutions and political will to place the environment at the forefront of development decisions. Through their oversight, legislative functions and adoption of budgets, parliaments have an important leadership role. 

It is encouraging to see parliaments much more actively focused on actions on climate and sustainable development. ESCAP remains ready to partner with you to create a strong foundation for the region’s future development.  

Thank you very much.

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