Asia Pacific Environment Ministers commit to bolstering actions for nature to realize the Sustainable Development Goals

Clean seas, plastic pollution, sustainable consumption and production, green recovery and carbon neutrality high on the agenda at the fourth session of the Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia Pacific. The Forum sends a strong message of political will and solidarity for strengthening nature actions to achieve the sustainable development goals in Asia and the Pacific.

Suwon: Environment Ministers and senior officials from 32 countries in the Asia Pacific region have agreed to step up actions and place nature at the core of solutions to stem the tide of pollution, protect seas and biodiversity, and transition to a carbon-neutral sustainable development path.

The Ministers reaffirmed this commitment at the 4th Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia Pacific held in Suwon, Republic of Korea on 6-7 October 2021. The Forum serves as a platform for the Member States and other stakeholders to contribute regional perspectives to the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) and to the Special Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly to mark the 50th anniversary of UNEP, both taking place in 2022.

Ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss are at critical thresholds in the region. Over 40 per cent of coral reefs, and 60 per cent of mangrove forests have been lost in the past years. The region contributes to half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and could generate about 1.4 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste by 2030. At the same time, the region is also more vulnerable to extreme weather events and future pandemics.

Speaking at the Ministerial Segment of the Forum, H.E. Ms. Han Jeoung-ae, Minister of Environment of the Republic of Korea highlighted the urgent need to protect and restore nature to effectively address the triple planetary crisis of pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change.

“The answer to overcoming the triple planetary crisis lies in nature. We can obtain sustainable energy from nature, use nature as carbon storage, restore nature to its original state and protect it. These are the actions we must start now for future generations,” she said.

The Republic of Korea has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Ministers noted that while the COVID-19 pandemic had hampered the capacity of Asian countries to respond to the planetary crisis, it also offers an unprecedented opportunity to build back better. Government policies in response to COVID-19 can reinforce the linkages between human well-being, creation of green jobs and the health of ecosystems. They further underlined that developing countries require support to transition to greener, more sustainable development pathways post-COVID.

Speaking at the event, Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director, UNEP, emphasized the importance of the Forum: We know that nature-based solutions work. And so countries recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic now have a once in a lifetime opportunity to unlock their transformative power in a way that drives a sustainable, green recovery.

She challenged governments to transform their relationship with nature and “work in the knowledge that if we look after nature, then nature will look after us.”

While managing and recovering from COVID-19, governments must not lose sight of addressing environmental challenges. Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa, Prime Minister of Samoa, said the pandemic was a wake-up call to protect nature and called for prioritization of the health of oceans and a coordinated and global response to halt biodiversity loss, marine litter and plastics pollution: “Much of the decline that our environment faces is reversible, but this requires bold and courageous decisions. The cost of inaction is too high a price to pay especially for future generations.”

In the outcome document of the Forum, Ministers supported a common regional position for the upcoming session of the second session of the 5th United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2), underscoring the need for stronger regional and global cooperation to combat transboundary challenges. A new resolution for an intergovernmental negotiating committee on marine pollution was proposed by Japan, while Indonesia and Sri Lanka proposed a resolution on sustainable lake management and nitrogen management, respectively.

To tackle the increasing unsustainable production and consumption rates in the region resulting in massive pollution, Indonesia and Singapore proposed to extend the 10-year framework of programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production until 2030.

Ahead of the Ministerial Forum, a Regional Youth Environment Forum, Major Groups and Stakeholders Meeting, and a Science-Policy Business Forum took place. Speaking on behalf of the Children and Youth Major Group, Zuhair Ahmed Kowshik of Bangladesh called for an overall ecosystem restoration framework, stronger clean air partnership and for countries to include young people on negotiating teams.