Asian Ministers Deepen Environmental Cooperation

KITAKYUSHU CITY, Japan, September 4, 2000 (ENS) - An Asian ministerial conference held once every five years to assess the state of the environment and sustainable development policies is taking place through Tuesday in Japan. Based on this review, the outcome may be a regional action program for 2001-2005, followed by a commitment by the ministers for its implementation through a declaration.

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City of Kitakyushu, Japan on the banks of the Murasaki River (Photo courtesy City of Kitakyushu)
Timed to coincide with the ministerial meeting is another high level environmental conference also in Kitakyushu, the Environment Congress for Asia and the Pacific (ECO ASIA).

The two concurrent meetings are expected to lead to deeper discussions on environmental issues, strengthen cooperation among nations in the region to combat environmental problems, and promote environmental policies.

The United States boycotted the meetings to show its disapproval of Japanese lethal whale research which this year added sperm and Bryde's whales to the usual minke whale targets.

With rising populations, economic growth, over exploitation of natural resources, and persistent pressure on meeting short term objectives, many Asian countries are experiencing extreme environmental stress.

Deteriorating quality of urban air, declining quality and quantity of fresh water resources, overloading of wastes due to unsustainable lifestyles and consumption, loss of biodiversity, diminishing coastal resources, and exposure to hazardous chemicals and wastes.

The ministers recognize the "urgent need for some of these environmental problems to be tackled in the short term as the situation has already reached a critical dimension affecting human health, the national economy and the natural ecosystem," they said in a joint statement.

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Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (Photo courtesy ESCAP)
Addressing delegates of both conferences Monday, Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and a former German environment minister, said globalization of world trade must be accompanied by expansion of ethical considerations.

"Production and profits cannot be purchased by poisoning the environment and exploiting social and economic vulnerability," Toepfer said. "The haves and have-nots are no longer divided between north and south and east and west, but by whether regions, countries and peoples can participate in and share the benefits of globalization."

Toepfer said increased trade and investment flows have bypassed the majority of developing countries, which face degrading environments and growing political and social instability.

The lion’s share of environmental degradation can be ascribed to the consumptive behavior of the richest fifth and the desperation of the poorest fifth of the world’s population, Toepfer said.

"In the developing world increased levels of human well-being enable societies to turn their attention from meeting immediate needs - often at the expense of the environment - to the longer term," he said.

The joint conferences are being held in Kitakyushu, a city with a population of one million, located midway between Shanghai and Tokyo, because of its reputation as a city that has overcome difficult environmental problems.

Developed as one of Japan’s industrialized zones following World War II, Kitakyushu’s extensive industrial structure led to severe pollution problems. Then, over a period of 20 years, Kitakyushu succeeded in cleaning up the city through the combined efforts of the government, industry, academia and citizens.

Mayor Koichi Sueyoshi said, "Utilizing the experiences and technology gained during this period, Kitakyushu is now enthusiastically working to promote international cooperation in the environmental field by dispatching experts overseas, carrying out international training courses, and coordinating international environmental conferences.

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New light rail system in Bangkok, Thailand relieves some of that city's traffic pollution problems (Photo courtesy Bangkok Light Rail)
The city is actively involved in fostering the growth of "eco-business", an industry expected flourish in the 21st century, Koichi said.

The "Kitakyushu Initiative for a Clean Environment" is being proposed to provide means to implement selected program areas of the Regional Action Program for Environmentally Sound and Sustainable Development, 2001-2005 - environmental quality and human health.

The document, which is expected to be approved by the Asian ministers, aims to improve the urban environment in major Asian cities by means of local initiatives aimed at control of air and water pollution, and minimization of all kinds of wastes. It will be implemented through selected technical, institutional, regulatory and participatory measures.

This document identifies specific priority actions and implementation mechanisms for possible replication of the experiences of Kitakyushu at the regional and subregional levels, including measurable targets that may be achievable. Technology transfer, exchange of experiences and promotion of regional cooperation are integral parts of the plan.

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Kim Hak-Su, executive secretary of the ministerial conference (Photo courtesy ESCAP)
Kim Hak-Su, executive secretary of the ministerial conference, pointed the ministers towards consideration of another landmark meeting coming up in 2002 - the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Rio Summit on Environment and Development, held in 1992. Ministers are developing a Regional Message for Rio + 10 that will evaluate the gains made since the 1992 Rio Summit while also producing insights and strategies for the future," Kim said.

In his speech to delegates, UNEP's Toepfer said industrialized countries have not lived up to the bargains made at the 1992 Earth Summit regarding foreign aid budgets and technology transfer.

Toepfer said UNEP would be working with all sectors of society in the build up to the 10th anniversary of the Earth Summit to try to catalyse a new regime of environmental regulations, policies and partnerships which could address the negative aspects of globalisation.

Toepfer said there is a need for strengthened links between economic and environmental bodies. He called for commitment to the mechanisms for financial assistance and technology transfer provided under the international treaties on climate change, biodiversity and ozone depleting substances.

He made particular mention of the importance of the Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol - which facilitates the transfer of technology and financial resources to developing countries - detail of which will be worked out at the upcoming Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in the Netherlands in November.