SINGAPORE: Asia-Pacific countries need to work together on environmental issues to create a sustainable future, two Singapore ministers urged on Friday (Jan 25).
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli cited growing global population and demand on resources as key reasons for countries to take steps to tackle climate change. The ministers were speaking at the Third Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia Pacific.
“We want to improve the lives of our increasing global population, by providing each person with better nutrition, better health care, better housing, better education, and better protection against the vagaries of nature," Mr Teo said. "But a larger population will also consume more energy, emit more greenhouse gases, and generate more waste and pollution - if we carry on business as usual."
The global population has grown from 6.1 billion in 2000 to 7.6 billion in 2018. This number is expected to increase and is projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, according to the United Nations.
“Climate change also threatens to reverse gains we have made … if we continue with business-as-usual, our societies will suffer as climate change intensifies,” Mr Masagos said, referring to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which warned that global temperatures could reach 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as early as 2030.
The IPCC is a leading international body of climate change researchers convened by the UN.
In its report in October last year, experts said a massive global effort is necessary to keep warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius, or the world will face devastating consequences on its economies and ecosystems. These could mean deadlier weather extremes, falling crop yields and higher sea levels.
Mr Teo pointed to technology as "a valuable tool" for the region to achieve a better and more sustainable future. One such example was the deployment of mini-grid and standalone solar home systems in India, which helped power all its villages in 2018.
Similarly, Mr Masagos called on the region to focus on R&D and innovation, and to adopt circular economy approaches.
“By transforming waste into resource, we will generate new economic value from something that would have been thrown away. A new industry can emerge where skilled workers design innovative products and manufacturing processes for waste,” he said.
“Innovations in material recovery, remanufacturing and recycling can help close resource loops," he added.
Both ministers agreed there is scope for the region to work together, even as individual countries pursue measures to address their own climate problems.
“The Asia-Pacific region could explore knowledge sharing and dialogue to develop a regional circular economy. This has been done elsewhere,” Mr Masagos said. He listed the 2016 North Sea Resources Roundabout, signed by the Netherlands, United Kingdom, France and Flanders to facilitate cross-border trade of recycled materials as resources, as an example.
“Sustainability is too complex and interlinked for us to resolve on our own,” Mr Teo said. “We need to strengthen multilateral cooperation and collective action, which are needed to address global environmental challenges such as deforestation, transboundary haze pollution, and maritime pollution including plastics."
The Third Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia Pacific serves is a key preparatory meeting for the 4th Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly that will be held in Nairobi in March.