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Medio Ambiente y Cambio Climático | José Luis Soto

Wasteful use of resources in Asia-Pacific countries is undermining their ability to sustain economic growth in future, but there is great potential for low-carbon and resource-efficient growth, according to a UNEP report released at the First Asia Pacific Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities.  

 Calling for a ‘new industrial revolution’ to promote equitable human well-being with lower resource use,  the report cautions that the Asia-Pacific region cannot depend on declining natural resource costs for its future growth. A more sustainable pathway is required for the region, but this shift needs financing—some US$2.5 trillion in annual sustainable development investments, according to some estimates.

“Asia Pacific, as the most diverse region in the world and home to 60 per cent of the world’s population, will be crucial to the success of the sustainable development, financing and climate change agendas being finalized this year,” said Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director.

“The region’s remarkable economic progress has lifted millions out of poverty, but inequality persists, climate change continues to grow as a threat, and, as this report shows, wasteful resource use has seen the material footprint of the region triple between 1990 and 2010.”

 “Significant scale-up in investments towards a green economy, coupled with sound regulatory frameworks and the mainstreaming of sustainability in national development planning processes, can ensure Asia Pacific’s impressive growth continues while safeguarding human well-being and natural resources, and reducing the future carbon emissions trajectory,” he added.

“These types of information are relevant for the Philippines and in other governments across the region in order for us to make the most informed decisions that best serve our people. This knowledge of current patterns of resource use can further help us make decisions about our policy priorities, development, and implementation towards a low carbon resource efficient economy,” says Hon. Mr. Ramon J.P. Paje, Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources in the Philippines.

Explosion in natural resource use but lower material footprint

Driven by rising consumption linked to a growing population and middle class, Asia-Pacific use of materials including biomass, metals, industrial and construction minerals and fossil fuels, is growing at 5 per cent annually, faster than the rest of the world. The use of materials in the region increased yearly from 5.7 billion to 37 billion tonnes between 1970 and 2010, compared to global consumption of 70 billion tonnes in 2010. Per capita material use increased fourfold from 2.3 tonnes to 9.3 tonnes over this period, the bulk of this growth happening after 1990.

It took an estimated 3 kg of materials to produce one dollar of GDP in the region in 2010, compared to 1 kg for the rest of the world. Developing Asia-Pacific countries needed 5 kg of materials to produce a dollar of GDP in 2010. This low efficiency points to the great potential to improve efficiency by which materials are used in the region.  

For the first time, the report provides Asia-Pacific policy makers with estimates of national material footprints. These adjust national resource consumption to account for trade. The material footprint of the region grew threefold between 1990 and 2010 with a maximum increase of 400 per cent in the construction sector. Agriculture saw the smallest increase of 1.8 times in its material footprint during this period.

Fourfold increase in energy use – water use more efficient – reduced carbon intensity

The region’s demand for electricity, gas and transport fuel, mainly met from coal and petroleum, has increased more than four times over the past 40 years, largely due to rapid urbanization in China.

However, per capita water use is declining in the region and is estimated at 544 m3 annually in the developing countries and 689 m3 in the industrialized countries. Agriculture is the main user, accounting for 80 per cent of water consumption.

The relative slow growth in the region’s share of global water use from 51 per cent in 1970 to 55 per cent in 2010 indicates improved water use efficiency.

Despite a fourfold increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the region between 1970 and 2010, there has been a dramatic reduction in carbon intensity in Asia-Pacific developing countries, from nearly 10 kg CO2equivalent per dollar to less than 3 kg CO2 equivalent per dollar over this period.