Friday, November 2, 2007

Sustainable development needs more actions, less rhetoric by Fardah

     Bangkok, Nov. 2, 2007 (ANTARA) - As a child in Katmandu, Nepal, Surendra Shrestha was always able to see a white mountain from his home and it took only 15 minutes to go anywhere in the city and just  five minutes to reach spots with views over green valleys.
Katmandu has changed. Trips in the city take at least two hours, and if we look north, we can no longer see the Himalayan.  Their snow caps have disappeared and the rivers have become open sewerages," said Shrestha who is now  Regional Director of UNEP (United Environment Program) for Asia and the Pacific, when  he recalled his childhood recently.
    The population of Katmandu significantly increased from around 200,000 about 20 or 30 years ago, to nearly two million at present, said Shrestha.
    Not only Katmandu but  the whole world has changed radically since 1987 - socially, economically, and environmentally, according to UNEP's latest comprehensive report entitled "The 4th Global Environment Outlook (GEO-4): Environment for Development."
    The GEO-4 report was officially launched by the UNEP Regional Director in
Bangkok, on October 26, 2007 almost simultaneously with the report's launchings in 39 other cities, including London, Nairobi, Panama City and New York.
    Surendra Shrestha said the  GEO-4's launching coincided with the 20th anniversary of "Our Common Future" report produced by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) or the Brundtland Commission in 1987.
     According to the GEO-4 report, the global population has grown by 34 percent to more than 6.7 billion from about 5 billion, trade is almost 3 times more voluminous, and the average income per capita  has gone up by about 40 percent from US$5,927 in 1987 to US$8,162 in 2004.
     Human population and economic growth have increased demand on natural resources, and consumption patterns have placed increasing pressure on the environment, representing continued serious and persistent barriers to sustainable development.              
     "The world as a whole is living far beyond its means. The human population is now so large that the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available. Humanity's footprint (its environmental demand) is 21.9 hectares per person, while the Earth's biological capacity is, on average, only 15.7 ha/person," the GEO-4 report says.
    The GEO-4 states that the well-being of billions of people in the developing world is at risk, because of  failure to remedy  relatively simple problems which have been successfully tackled elsewhere.
    The GEO-4 describes the global challenges since 1987 and assesses the current state of global atmosphere, land, water, and biodiversity. It also identifies priorities for action.

Asia and the Pacific
     Since 1987,
Asia and the Pacific had become the world's fastest developing region. But progress had come at a price.
Asia and the Pacific, ecosystems and human health continue to deteriorate, while population growth and rapid economic development have caused  significant environmental degradation and loss of natural resources, the GEO-4 says.  
     Among the serious environmental problems facing the Asia-Pacific region were  urban air pollution, fresh water stress, and increased waste.
     In the region, some 655 million people lack access to safe water . In developing countries, around three million people, mostly infants, die annually  from water-borne diseases such as diarrhea.
     Abour air quality, the GEO-4 says, the region's growing energy needs and the "exploding" growth in motor vehicles are causing serious damage, with haze pollution from forest fires in
South East Asia making matters worse.
     More than one billion people in
Asia are exposed to outdoor air pollutant levels exceeding WHO standards, which causes the premature death of 500,000 people annually.
     The GEO-4 is the first UNEP report which emphasizes the potential impacts of climate change in all seven of the world's regions. For
Asia and the Pacific, the impacts of climate change would include more  severe droughts and floods, soil degradation, coastal inundation and salt water intrusion caused by sea level rise. Agricultural productivity is likely to decline substantially because of warmer temperatures and shifting rainfall.
                   'Green' Economic Growth
    One of the major obstacles to establishing an effective system of environmental management is the fact that environmental and economic policies have not been fully integrated, according to the 540-page report written by about 400 scientists and decision makers from a number of countries.
     An ESCAP official said from the viewpoint of protection of the environment and implementation of sustainable development, the quality of economic growth was more important than  its number or percentage.
     "Economic growth has to be green. The quality of economic growth is the matter, not its number. Focusing on the percentage of economic growth is wrong," Rae Kwon Chung, Director of the Environment and Sustainable Development Division of ESCAP (UN Economic and Social Commission for
Asia and the Pacific), said.
     But unfortunately, Chung said, many Asian countries had copied the
US in appreciating economic growth mainly in terms of percentage. He noted that Bangkok had copied the US in developing its transportation infrastructure which had led to traffic jams.
    "Sustainability is the most important thing," the ESCAP official said when speaking at a UNEP seminar themed  "Back to Our Common Future" held coinciding with the GEO-4 launching in
    He said sustainability could be achieved by integrating the environment into development as advocated by the 1987 Our Common Future report which stressed  the need for  sustainable development policies, namely meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the future generations in meeting their needs.
      He said  for the sake of sustainable development, it was  important to manage demand, and not merely to increase supply.
     "Demand management is important, in addition to leadership for the environment," he said.
      Meanwhile, according to Shrestha, the environmental awareness of the world community and its leaders had improved a lot but their actions were not adequate.
     He said  many conferences and summits on the environment had been held over the past few decades and a number of treaties and protocols had been produced.
    "Over the last 20 years, there has been a lot of environmental rhetoric but few actions by political leaders," Shrestha said, adding that there was more need for actions than for rhetoric, and innovations should be distributed in a better way.
     No major issues were raised in 'Our Common Future' for which the foreseeable trends are favorable, GEO-4 says. But the report insists that "the objective is not to present a dark and gloomy scenario, but an urgent call for more stringent action."
     GEO-4 emphasized that "Our Common future depends on our ACTIONS today, not tomorrow or some time in the future."
02-11-2007 20:18:33

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