UN calls for more integrated approach to manage rapid urban growth in Asia

Policy-makers in Asia and the Pacific need to take a more integrated approach in managing urban growth in order to ensure that the rapid expanding cities in the region are both economically and environmentally sustainable, a United Nations official told the largest gathering on air quality management in the region.

Speaking today in Bangkok at the Better Air Quality 2008 (BAQ) workshop, which has brought together about 1,000 participants from over 35 countries, Shaoyi Li, a senior environment official from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) spoke of the need to encourage decision-makers in Asian cities to look at population, environmental, social and economic issues as one.

“Currently, policies are often designed to tackle single issues, and actions are developed in isolation, resulting in coordination failures and increased costs,” Mr. Li said. Crucial issues ranging from climate change to health or traffic congestion are often not taken into consideration in policy development.

BAQ workshops have brought together a growing number of policy makers and stakeholders to discuss how to improve air quality since 2001. The current workshop, being held in Bangkok 12 – 14 November, is the largest in BAQ history and has taken as its theme “Air quality and climate change: scaling up win-win solutions in Asia.”

Asian cities and towns are at a crossroads in their development, Mr Li pointed out. “Currently 1.6 billion people or 40 percent of Asians live in urban areas. By 2030, a majority, around 2.7 billion people, will live in cities and towns. This means adding a new town of 137,000 people every day for the next 22 years.” This unprecedented growth has lead to more motorization and energy use with the potential to damage urban air quality and rapidly increase greenhouse gas emissions.

“Choices made in urban infrastructure development today will determine the competitiveness, quality of life and sustainability of cities in the region for decades to come,” Mr. Li said. An example is to create a comprehensive and effective mass transit system such as a subway or efficient bus system, which could reduce traffic congestion and energy consumption and improve the air quality of a city.

The BAQ 2008 workshop has been organized by the Clean Air Initiative Asia Center, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and the Pollution Control Department of Thailand, in cooperation with the Asian Development Bank, the United Nations Environment Programme and ESCAP.

As a pre-event, an informal consultation with the Asian-Pacific developing countries on perspectives for a post-2012 climate change framework was organized by ESCAP on 11 November. The event is one of a series of consultations between ESCAP and the Asian-Pacific developing countries on a climate regime after 2012, when the current commitments under the Kyoto Protocol expire, with the objectives of sharing views and ideas on follow-up to the Bali climate change conference last December, discussing innovative options for climate actions, and identifying effective approaches on the promotion of national mitigation and adaptation actions.

For more information, please visit: www.baq2008.org and http://www.unescap.org/esd/environment.