China Hosts Environment Ministers from Asia, Europe

BEIJING, China, January 17, 2002 (ENS) - A key meeting of 25 environment ministers, the first of its kind within the group known as Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), took place in Beijing today.

Asia-Europe Meeting is an informal process of dialogue and cooperation bringing together the 15 countries of the European Union, and 10 Asian nations: Brunei, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.


The Gobi desert, People's Republic of China (Photo courtesy FAO)
The ASEM Summit is held every second year and brings together the Heads of State and Governments of the 25 ASEM countries, plus the President of the European Commission.

While meetings of foreign, economic and finance Ministers have been held since ASEM was inaugurated in 1996, today's gathering is the first time environment ministers of the ASEM countries have met.

Ministerial discusssions were focused on preparing for the World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa in August and September.

The ministers covered climate change and the entry into force of the Kyoto climate protocol, energy generation, protection of biodiversity, and preventing the spread of desert areas.


Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji (Photo courtesy MIT)
"Asia and Europe both play important roles in economic development and environmental protection in the new millennium," Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji said in a message to the meeting, according to the Chinese official news agency Xinhua. Zhu called for "hand-in-hand" effort between the two continents to create a better environment.

"Protecting the environment while ensuring sustainable development is a priority not only for the European Union, but also for many developed and developing nations across the world," the EU said in a statement.

Xinhua quoted Chinese Vice-Premier Wen Jiabao as telling the delegates that developed countries should take more responsibility for environmental protection and should help developing countries to find solutions for their environmental problems. "The developed countries have made a great impact on the global environment in their long development process and now have great technical and economic advantages," he said.

China is taking environmental protection ever more seriously. A new official Chinese government report says the Yangtze River is becoming increasingly polluted with sewage and industrial waste. The report by the Yangtze River Water Resources Authority concludes that stretches of the river are too polluted for human use, and will continue to deteriorate.

Wang Zhijia, director of international cooperation for China's State Environmental Protection Administration said Wednesday that China has signed more than 20 international conventions that deal with environmental issues such as biological diversity, climate change, the protection of the ozone layer, and the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes.

The inaugural Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) held in Bangkok, Thailand in March 1996 established environmental cooperation between the two regions as a priority.


Environmental degradation on a Thai river. (Photo by C. Tipsuthom courtesy FAO)
"The meeting acknowledged the importance of addressing environmental issues such as global warming, protection of water resources, deforestation and desertification, biodiversity of species, marine environment protection and agreed that mutually beneficial cooperation should be undertaken in this field including the transfer of environmentally sound technology to promote sustainable development," the first ASEM chairman declared.

Environmental progress at the second ASEM meeting in London, UK, was summed up by Prime Minister Tony Blair. "We have agreed an exciting programme of cooperation to deal with environmental disasters. We have also launched a new Environmental Technology Centre to be based in Thailand. And we have agreed further cooperation on the important issue of climate change and the effect of greenhouse gases," he said.

In the third ASEM meeting in Seoul, China and Germany co-sponsored a proposal to hold the Environment Ministers' Meeting. Delegates agreed to cooperate on forestry conservation and sustainable development.

The fourth ASEM meeting will take place in Copenhagen, Denmark later this year.