Opening Remarks at 5th Committee on Environment and Development

Delivered at UNCC in Bangkok, Thailand

Dr. Wijarn Simachaya, Permanent Secretary of Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment,

Mr. Peter Thomson, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Ocean,

Honourable Mr. Bikash Lamsal, Minister for Industry, Tourism, Forest and Environment, Gandaki Province of Nepal

Excellencies,

Very distinguished delegates,

Welcome to the fifth session of the Committee on Environment and Development. I am delighted to be with you to focus on environmental action: an area at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Altering patterns of production and consumption is essential to reverse environmental degradation and combat climate change. So, we must reach a common understanding of the environmental challenges we face. And establish how overcoming these challenges could help sustain economic and social development in our region.

This is critical, because our best efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda are falling short in Asia and the Pacific. UN ESCAP analysis shows that at the current rate of progress, only one Sustainable Development Goal is on track to be met, which is universal education. Environmental stewardship remains inadequate. The health of our oceans has deteriorated since the baseline in 2015, with more than 40 percent of coral reefs and 60 percent of coastal mangroves lost. The protection of natural habitats has weakened. The region has recorded net losses in natural forests.

We live in the most resource intensive region in the world. Last year, Asia-Pacific accounted for 65% of global domestic material consumption. Rapid urbanization, expansion of manufacturing, and the consumption of an emerging middle class has led to an increase in material demand. In 2016, over half of the countries in our region were classified as water insecure.

Moving away from fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a major challenge, not least because of the recent investments made in coal power stations. Estimates indicate modern renewables will need to supply 35 per cent of the region’s energy consumption by 2030 to achieve energy sector emissions reduction targets. But the percentage of renewables in the energy mix has declined from 23% in 1990 to 18% in 2014.

There is a growing recognition these problems can no longer wait. By increasing resource efficiency by transitioning to a circular economy - where materials are reused, re-manufactured or recycled - more effective management of ecosystems and concerted climate action is achievable. Regional cooperation, embodied by this Committee, can give scale to this effort.

The difference environmental solutions could make is real. ESCAP analysis indicates incremental improvements in energy and material resource efficiency of just 1 percent in the region could generate some $275 billion worth of savings. That’s equivalent to half of all FDI attracted to the region. A circular economy could generate material cost savings of $420 billion by 2025 in the consumer goods sector alone. This would contribute to reducing by half the emissions gap between current climate action commitments and efforts required by the Paris Agreement. Ecosystem conservation informed by SDG targets could lead to an increase of $3 trillion worth of ecosystem services per year for the region by 2050.

Where climate action is concerned, as Nationally Determined Contributions are updated for 2020, more ambitious action could improve this region’s mitigation potential but could also generate considerable economic benefits. An increase of 10 % of GDP per capita could be generated for developing countries in the region by 2100.

Regional cooperation between UN ESCAP member States is ongoing to meet these challenges. Environment and development actions have strengthened opportunities for peer-learning, the sharing of best practice and supported coherent policies for clean and environmentally sustainable development. These include initiatives on green growth, environmental accounting and statistics, partnerships, and regional coordination mechanisms.

Last year’s 7th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development enhanced the environmental dimension of sustainable development with the aim of strengthening its convergence with the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Efforts to implement the ministerial declaration agreed are underway.

UN ESCAP has been working with partners on an Urban Nexus approach to integrate water, energy and food systems, and increase resource efficiency for sustainable urban development. To reduce plastic pollution, UN ESCAP is developing policy options to improve plastic waste management systems, including working with the informal sector. And to improve the management of our oceans, UN ESCAP is developing a methodology to improve the evidence base and better target responses.

Over the coming days we are looking forward to your guidance in several areas.

Where do you see most value for the Secretariat to focus future analytical work on the trends in priority areas? What should be the scope of our analysis measuring economic and social benefits of environmental action? And where do you see most value in the secretariat’s environmental cooperation initiatives?

I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts on all these issues. We are grateful for the support and cooperation received from our member States as work together to deliver against a global mandate to make this region and our planet a more sustainable, safe and inclusive.

Thank you for your attention. I wish you a very successful Committee.