Signs of hope but APAC still a leader in global unsustainability
The world continues to speed down an unsustainable path, despite over 500 internationally agreed goals and objectives to support the sustainable management of the environment and improve human well-being, according to a new and wide-ranging assessment co-ordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The fifth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5), launched Wednesday in Beijing on the eve of the Rio+20 Summit, assessed 90 of the most-important environmental goals and objectives and found that significant progress had only been made in four.
These are eliminating the production and use of substances that deplete the ozone layer, removal of lead from fuel, increasing access to improved water supplies and boosting research to reduce pollution of the marine environment.
While, some progress was shown in 40 goals, including the expansion of protected areas such as national parks and efforts to reduce deforestation, little or no progress was detected for 24 including climate change, fish stocks, and desertification and drought.
Further deterioration was posted for eight goals including the state of the world’s coral reefs while no assessment was made of 14 other goals due to a lack of data.
It should come as no surprise that Asia-Pacific, the world’s fastest growing economic region, plays a significant role in the GEO-5 report, which warns that the region faces multiple threats linked to unsustainable growth, population increase, increased consumption and urbanization.
Robust governance structures, enhanced accountability and co-ordinated sustainability approaches need to be integrated across all policy levels, if the region is to overcome environmental challenges, which include rising greenhouse gas emissions, water scarcity, unsustainable consumption and production patterns and the management of chemicals and hazardous waste.
Yet, the GEO-5 found some encouraging signs as many countries are adopting innovative policies that can put the region on a more sustainable path: from balancing water management through quotas and pricing in China and the introduction of payments for ecosystem services in Vietnam, to building climate resilience in the Maldives and implementing a national green growth policy in the Republic of Korea.
If scaled-up and accelerated, such measures could assist in a transition to a green economy as nations across the globe prepare for the Rio+20 Summit later this month.
Business as usual
However, under a business as usual scenario, Asia-Pacific is expected to contribute approximately 45 percent of global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2,) emissions by 2030 and an estimated 60 percent by 2100.
Meanwhile, intra-regional diversity means that the region is not only home to the world’s largest emitter, China, but also the smallest, the Pacific Island nations.
Similarly, water endowments in the region range from the abundant resources of the tropics and the Himalayan snowfields to the highly arid temperate zones and water-stressed small island states.
The report found that more than 450 million people in the Asia-Pacific still had no access to clean drinking water in 2008, accounting for over 40 percent of the world total, and only a handful of the region's countries have established the necessary legal and institutional capacities for integrated water resources management.
In addition, since 2001, China has grown at 10 percent per year, a seven-year doubling time, and India at 8 percent per year, a nine-year doubling time – with environmental pressures increasing at approximately the same pace.
As a result, China, whose economy is second only to that of the United States, has become the world’s largest CO2 emitter.