UNESCAP says green growth strategies needed to sustain development
Bangkok – Asia-Pacific's economic growth will suffer unless national policies are adopted to address growing regional environmental pressures, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) says in its latest Survey.
The Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2007 warned the costs from environmental degradation are already apparent.
"Evidence already shows that the economic base provided by the environment is being undermined in the region. Land has been eroded, fisheries depleted, forest and coastal ecosystems degraded and air and water polluted," the Survey said.
And the costs are mounting. Natural forests are in decline adding further pressures on biodiversity, seen by the 60% conversion of regional mangrove forests into aquaculture. Water shortages are also becoming an increasing challenge for industry and agriculture.
In India and China water demand is set to skyrocket. India's industrial water use is expected to almost quadruple by 2050, but the water shortages may slow expansion as some parts of India are already facing shortages.
In China, the Survey estimates water shortages costing $28 billion a year in lost output. Air and water pollution are already leading to higher social and welfare costs due to the impacts on health.
The Survey pointed to the report by the United Kingdom on climate change that warned of a recession triggered by a reduction of 20% in global output (gross domestic product – GDP), with 200 million "climate refugees" from drought and floods.
"The most severe impacts of climate change are predicted to be in the Asian and Pacific region, with poor countries like to suffer earliest and the most," the Survey said.
Modest rises in temperatures of between 2-3 degrees Celsius will lead to a decline of up to 70 % for typical crops in northern India putting 30 to 200 million people at risk if hunger. Regions of southern China and the Indian subcontinent also face the risk of a 30% loss of water availability with just a 2 degree temperature rise.
Rising sea levels and storms in coastal areas may also threaten coastal cities. The Survey says such commercial centres as Hong Kong, Shanghai, Mumbai, Kolkata, Karachai and Tokyo may all be under threat from inundation as well as several island economies.
The Survey says policies that promote "grow now, clean up later" strategies, are now no longer adequate. It also calls for early action to ensure results at far lower cost. "A priority is finding economic growth strategies that support and reinforce environmental sustainability," it said.
Further, "the efficient use of natural resources is often pro-poor because the poor, particularly in rural areas, are the most affected by shortages of water, losses of land, forests or fisheries and other forms of environmental degradation," the Survey says.
The Survey recommends a "five-track approach to green growth" that ranges from taxation policies to sustainable consumption through to monitoring the progress through "eco-efficient indicators."
"Many tax and subsidy policies indirectly promote environmentally damaging activities ... Environmental taxes, by contrast, internalize environmental costs – but may not be popular," the Survey said.
"Green taxes could generate revenues to reduce other (distorting) taxes. They should be combined with reforms of fiscal budgets that align public revenues and expenditures with environmentally sound considerations."
It also calls for governments to plan for "environmentally friendly" infrastructure that fosters efficient use of resources and minimizes pollution as cities grow, highways lengthen, and water, energy and sanitation services expand.
Cleaner production should also be promoted. Projects can range from waste management to alternative energy sources. Corporations too can become key agents for change for environmental sustainability.
Such tools, says the Survey, will assist countries in efforts to "decouple economic growth from its negative environmental impacts." They also will provide "a powerful advocacy tool to influence consumption and production patterns," it added.
As the region's oldest and most prestigious annual review of economic and social developments, UNESCAP's Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific provides the only independent source of analysis covering all countries in this vast and diverse region, and considers both the social and economic spheres of development. The 2007 Survey, entitled "Surging Ahead in Uncertain Times," looks at the most critical issues, challenges and risks our region faces in the months ahead.
Headquartered in Bangkok, Thailand, UNESCAP is the largest of the UN's five Regional Commissions in terms of membership, population served and area covered. The only inter-governmental forum covering the entire Asia-Pacific region, it aims to promote economic and social progress.