Press release

Alarm sounded over Asia's environmental degradation

June 27, 2001

Asian Development Bank report warns of severe risk to health, livelihood

Thursday, June 28, 2001 at 8 a.m.
The Winnipeg Chinese Cultural Centre
180 King Street, Winnipeg, MB

Canadian launch of the Asian Development Bank's Asian Environment
Outlook 2001

J. Warren Evans, Asian Development Bank; Dr. Rey Pagtakhan, Secretary of State (Asia Pacific) will speak.

WINNIPEG — Canada's International Institute for Sustainable Development hosted the Canadian launch of a report by the Asian Development Bank that paints a devastating portrait of environmental decline in Asia. The report entitled Asian Environment Outlook 2001 (AEO) concludes environmental degradation in the Asia and Pacific region is pervasive, accelerating, and unabated, putting at risk people's health and livelihood and hampering the economic growth needed to reduce the level of poverty in the region.

"Environmental trends are alarming and previous institutional and policy approaches appear to have had a limited success," said J. Warren Evans, Manager, Environment Division, Asian Development Bank. "Even in the face of this devastation, the region still has the opportunity to follow a different economic-environmental pathway, one that builds a clear urban-industry economy and ensures sustainability of natural resources."

The Asian Development Bank is a leading multilateral development agency with headquarters in Manila, Philippines. The AEO report provides in-depth analyses of the environmental issues facing the region, as well as a workable framework to improve the environment and reduce poverty.

"For Canada, protecting the environment and reducing poverty are inseparable. Without poverty reduction we cannot achieve sustainable development," said Dr. Rey Pagtakhan, Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) and M.P. for Winnipeg-North St. Paul. "It is the world's poor who are most vulnerable to the effects of environmental degradation. Canada therefore continues to strongly support the ADB's programming and policy work related to the protecting the environment, improving the quality of life for all."

Asia's economic development over the past few decades has come at a high environmental cost, according to the report:

  • By 2020, over half of Asia's population is likely to live in cities, with the urban population tripling to over a billion in 2020 from 360 million in 1990, a further strain on already inadequate infrastructure for water supply, housing, and sanitation.
  • The region has already lost up to 90 percent of its original wildlife habitat to agriculture, infrastructure, deforestation, and land degradation.
  • One in three Asians lacks access to safe drinking water within 200 meters of home, with South and Southeast Asia suffering the most.
  • The region is expected to replace the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries as the world's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions by 2015.
  • Air pollution is a major cause of respiratory ailments and premature death in several Asian cities.

"If nothing is done, Asian industry may follow the same destructive path taken earlier by the industrialized nations. Much of the growth may be highly polluting," said Mr. Evans.

With only a few exceptions, Asia's "grow now, clean up later approach" has resulted in a long list of institutional, policy, and governance failures, says the AEO. The separation of economic growth from environmental concerns has led to:

  • Excessive reliance on centralized, top-down approaches;
  • Inadequate participation of civil society in environmental management;
  • Weak enforcement;
  • Absence of political will;
  • Corruption;
  • Market distortions; and
  • Limited funding for environmental management.

The report identifies three core elements of a new approach to meet the Asian Development Bank's vision of a region where consumption is based on services rather than ownership or assets, ecosystems and biodiversity are valued and protected, and environmental management is decentralized, participatory and effective. The three elements are:

  • Environmental and development policies must be integrated at national and regional level. Currently, a stand-alone agency is usually responsible for environmental protection but often lacks the authority to put environmental concerns high on policy agendas.
  • Development by design should guide sustainable development. This means guiding urban and industrial development according to publicly accepted and integrated environmental and economic development plans.
  • A strong political will is essential to translate environmental rhetoric into actions. This means a minimum level of environmental compliance, adequate budget and human resources, access to information and public participation as well as eliminating subsidies that aggravate resource degradation.

About IISD

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resource management, and fair economies. Our work inspires better decisions and sparks meaningful action to help people and the planet thrive. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities come together. IISD’s staff of more than 250 experts come from across the globe and from many disciplines. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, our work affects lives in nearly 100 countries.