Green recovery policies once in lifetime opportunity to raise climate ambitions in Asia-Pacific

While much of the attention this year has been focused on protecting populations as well as the socio-economic impacts and recovery needed, high-level officials from across the Asia-Pacific this week called upon countries to address the environmental roots of the COVID-19 pandemic to further protect the health of people and the planet.

Held on 9 and 10 December, the sixth session of the Committee on Environment and Development was convened by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). The session shone the spotlight on the region’s environmental challenges in the context of the pandemic.

“As we recover better together, the future of our region is fundamentally tied to the success or failure in stewardship of the environmental system and response to the climate change challenge. ESCAP analysis shows that business as usual is likely to drive significant tensions between and within countries, climate mitigation, inequality, and hardship,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana in her opening remarks.

“The destruction of the living world not only undermines our only support system; it makes pandemics more likely. And yet, as nations seek ways to recover from the pandemic, I see a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform our economies and societies at the scale and speed we need,” shared Ms. Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme, adding that it is vital countries get this right as the impacts will be felt in the decades to come.

“We must keep this attention on the environment and continue to support countries as we move forward, including to ensure that recoveries from the pandemic place high priority on the environment and lead us to a green, resilient and inclusive future,” said outgoing Chair H.E. Mr. Sonam P. Wangdi, Secretary, Bhutan National Environment Commission.

In light of the unique circumstances of the pandemic and the hybrid format of this Committee’s session, H.E. Ms. Suchitra Durai, Ambassador of India to Thailand and elected chair of the sixth session said, “The COVID 19 outbreak has challenged all of us to do business differently as evident from this year’s organization of the Committee.”

The Asia-Pacific region is experiencing enormous transformations, characterized by rapidly increasing resource consumption, energy use and CO2 emissions. These changes are negatively affecting biodiversity and the environment. While recent commitments being made by countries across the region to significantly reduce emissions and achieve carbon neutrality are encouraging, they are still not enough.

The Committee highlighted four entry points critical to the region: Raising climate ambition, Safeguarding ecosystem health, Clean air for all, and Cities for a sustainable future. Delegates shared that innovative solutions can be harnessed to address the climate crisis. These include more ambitious mitigation pathways such as increasing energy efficiency of industry and cities by 60 to 70 per cent; decarbonization of electricity; deep reductions in agricultural emissions; and advancing carbon capture, carbon storage and sequestration measures.

Discussions also focused on realizing environmental benefits through policy convergence and enhanced regional cooperation. Countries considered opportunities to support and scale up collective work on the environment by strengthening implementation of existing multilateral environmental agreements and processes, and mobilizing the region’s technical expertise.

To this end, the Committee endorsed the establishment of a technical expert group to facilitate the exchange of information among countries and various stakeholders in the region to address environmental issues through enhanced climate action, improve the efficiency of natural resources management, address air pollution and promote sustainable urban planning.

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