Ladies and gentlemen,
A warm welcome to all delegations to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) as well as those joining remotely from capitals to the Sixth Session of the Committee on Environment and Development.
The Committee convenes at a very consequential point in time. We could not have anticipated two years ago when the Committee last met that we would be meeting during a global COVID-19 pandemic that has exposed some of our greatest environmental challenges.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching impacts across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. While much of the attention has been properly focused on protecting the health of populations, as well as the social impacts and on the economic recoveries that are needed, we must also understand and address the environmental roots of the pandemic if we are to reduce the risk of future pandemics.
Today, our region is going through great transformation with the changing patterns of development, resource consumption, energy use and CO2 emissions. These changing factors are adversely affecting biodiversity and the environment, threatening planetary health and jeopardizing our ability to achieve the New Urban Agenda, the Paris Climate Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
As we recover better, together, the future of our region is fundamentally tied to success or failure in stewardship of the environmental system and response to the climate change challenge. In this case, ESCAP’s scenario building work shows that “business as usual” is likely to drive significant tensions between and within countries, climate mitigation, inequality, and hardship.
With the post-2020 biodiversity framework taking shape, the Decade of Ocean Science before us, the need to accelerate climate action and progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we can no longer defer cooperation on the environment.
With this background, may I now focus on the following policy priorities for your consideration and further guidance.
First, Raising climate ambition.
The Committee provides an important opportunity in realizing environmental benefits through climate actions. The commitments being made by member States across our region to significant emission reductions, net-zero emissions and carbon neutrality are encouraging but still not enough.
More ambitious mitigation pathways can be achieved, including increasing energy efficiency of industry and cities by 60-70 per cent; decarbonization of electricity and electrification of energy end use; deep reductions in agricultural emissions; and advancing carbon capture, carbon storage and sequestration measures.
I would like to urge governments to incorporate these policy measures in an integrated, holistic and cost-effective manner in their national mitigation and adaptation plans. Establishing voluntary carbon pricing instruments and taxes, fossil fuel subsidy reforms, national and regional emissions trading systems and national private climate finance will secure and mobilize the needed financial support.
Second, Safeguarding ecosystem health.
Ecosystem health can be achieved through the protection of biodiversity and ecosystems, the restoration of degraded ecosystems, ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, and by preventing pollution, to name a few.
The third Asia-Pacific Day for the Ocean held in October 2020, highlighted the urgent need to sustainably manage marine resources, to address marine plastics and to enhance regional cooperation to protect our ocean.
Let me highlight that tourism and fisheries, marine pollution, sustainable maritime connectivity and Ocean, data and statistics are four specific areas of transformative actions for ocean protection and sustainable development.
Third, Clean air for all.
Transboundary air pollution is a regional problem that requires regional solutions and regional cooperation. We must mobilize effective solutions, such as innovative approaches to data, including satellite imagery and machine-learning, and proactively engage with decision makers at all levels to meaningfully reduce air pollution.
The Regional Conversation Series on Air Pollution in Asia-Pacific on the commemoration of the 1st International Day of Clean Air for blue skies reemphasized the need to mobilize effective solutions as outlined above through regional cooperation.
In this context, there is also a need to promote appropriate agricultural machinery that can help farmers adopt sustainable and integrated management of straw residue. Technology and innovation, including mechanization-based solutions, through the Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization (CSAM), have a key role to play to reduce residue burning in some parts of the region.
Fourth, Cities for a sustainable future.
Despite the disruption to our urban centres from the pandemic, cities remain vitally important to our planetary ecosystem and changing urban-rural dynamics will impact biodiversity, emissions and air pollution. Without doubt the region’s cities are central to recoveries that build back better.
To guide future urbanization, ESCAP’s Future of Asian & Pacific Cities report provides thematic priorities and solution pathways for a more sustainable urban future.
I am confident that well-planned and sustainable urbanization provides opportunities to contribute to environmental value by leveraging smart data and technologies, innovative land-based finance, sustainable settlement patterns, investments in nature-based resilience building, environment-related improvements to health and wellbeing, and resource efficiencies.
Excellencies, Distinguished Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am certain that addressing the regional environmental challenges outlined above will require harnessing regional cooperation and solutions-oriented proposals. A shared narrative for the future of our region’s environment is essential and will require mobilizing member States and stakeholders to avoid future risks.
ESCAP, along with the UN system, stands ready to work with member States, local and subnational authorities, international and regional organizations, civil society and the private sector to accelerate innovative solutions to critical environmental challenges.
I urge member States to consider opportunities before the Committee to support and scale up our collective work on the environment by strengthening the implementation of existing multilateral environmental agreements and intergovernmental processes; and mobilizing the region’s technical expertise.
Furthermore, a proposal for the committee to establish a technical expert group to work with the secretariat is before you and we are confident that this enhanced dialogue will further strengthen regional cooperation to build back better and advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The urgency of environmental action has never been more profound.
I wish you a very successful Committee session.
Thank you for your attention.