The first inaugural regional session of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Science-Policy-Business Forum (SPBF) for Asia and the Pacific took place on 5 October 2021. It convened under the theme, “Towards a Healthy Rebound for People, Nature and Economies.” The day featured robust discussions during the following four sessions:
- High-level opening session (part one) on "From Pandemic to Recovery";
- High-level opening session (part two) on "Technology Innovation, People";
- Thematic session on "Towards Greater Transparency and Sustainable Investment: Turning the Tide on Ocean Plastic Pollution"; and
- Thematic session on "Mitigating Zoonotic Diseases–Healthy Planet Healthy People."
Opening Session Part One: From Pandemic to Recovery
This session, moderated by Axel Threlfall, Thomson Reuters, examined pathways for a sustainable, equitable and inclusive rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic that is good for the people, the planet, and economies. It assessed strategies and policies that can be used to ease the transition on the road to recovery.
Han Jeoung-ae, Minister of Environment, Republic of Korea, said industry and business are at the heart of the carbon neutral transition, stressing collaboration and shared experiences, technology development, and investment to minimize risks.
Dechen Tsering, Regional Director, UNEP Regional Office for Asia-Pacific, highlighted the need for green development principles, multilateralism, and embeddedness of the science-policy interface.
Bob Watson, Lead Author, Making Peace with Nature, and Former Chair, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems (IPBES), said that, although the world is currently not on course to achieve any climate change and biodiversity targets, political will and collaboration could make it happen.
Laksmi Dhewanthi, Director General of Climate Change, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Indonesia, elaborated on Indonesia’s environmental and economic recovery through policies focused on food security, labor-intensive social forestry, and peatland and mangrove rehabilitation.
Bambang Susantono, Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, Asian Development Bank (ADB), highlighted inclusiveness as an important pillar of the ADB’s philosophy to prevent a K-shaped recovery, which would widen the inequality gap going forward.
Steven Victor, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment, Palau, underscored that although island states can improve their resilience, they cannot do much to reach the 1.5°C warming target on their own.
Pema Gyamtsho, Director General, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), said Himalayan communities are suffering from both the pandemic and climate change, and that the pre-pandemic status quo was unsustainable.
Kaveh Zahedi, Deputy Executive Secretary for Sustainable Development, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), called for investments in risk reduction systems addressing the overlaying hazards of disease, disaster and climate change, at a cost of USD 270 billion per year (0.8% of regional GDP).
Brenda Harvey, General Manager, IBM Asia Pacific, outlined the use of technology and data for the environment, highlighting the use of blockchain technology to encourage recycling in the Philippines.
Li Zhang, Secretary General, Society of Entrepreneurs for Ecology Foundation, China, called for more private sector and civil society involvement to protect biodiversity and address climate change.
Thu Anh Nguyen, UN Major Group for Children and Youth, said the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity to move towards a circular economy.
Wali Haider, Farmers Major Group, called for science and policy that serves people and addresses inequality.
Key takeaways from the session included that:
- the Asia-Pacific will be a key partner in a sustainable, equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic;
- public-private partnerships can be instruments to achieve sustainable change; and
- collaboration among countries and sectors is needed for true progress to be made.
Opening Session Part Two: Technology, Innovation, People
The second part of the opening session addressed private sector leadership and the interdependencies and integration required to develop nature-positive and people-centered approaches to recovery and sustainable growth.
Sveinung Rotevatn, President of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA), and Minister of Environment and Climate, Norway, welcomed the first regional event in the Asia-Pacific noting the region faces great challenges but also great promise.
Sonja Leighton-Kone, Director of Corporate Affairs, UNEP, said people are increasingly asking whether or not the pandemic is a sign that humanity has pushed nature too far.
Tapan Mishra, UN Resident Coordinator, Mongolia, noted the pandemic provided the first major test for the reformed UN Resident Coordinator system, which provided a blueprint for accelerating Sustainable Development Goal implementation during the Decade of Action ahead.
Harry Verhaar, Vice President, Head of Global Public and Government Affairs, Signify, said moving faster toward net zero carbon is importance, which can be achieved through two related strategies: innovating on infrastructure in developed countries; and technological leapfrogging in developing countries.
Steven Kukoda, Executive Director, International Copper Association, said energy efficiency is an essential step to achieving the Paris Agreement and called for regional harmonization of efficiency standards.
Diane Holdorf, Managing Director, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, underscored the inequalities in society made stark during the COVID-19 pandemic and said these must be addressed.
Yana Gevorgyan, Director of Secretariat, Group on Earth Observation, noted the nexus between climate change, biodiversity, and plastic pollution, and the need for integrated solutions.
Graham Durant, Director, Australia National Science and Technology Centre, elaborated on the importance of citizen science for gathering data and turning citizens into active participants.
Julio Anton Mulawin R. Nemenzo, UN Children and Youth Major Group, urged increasing the meaningful participation of youth groups.
Key takeaways from the session included:
- the need for urgent action at the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 26);
- the need to make use of available “environmental intelligence” and data; and
- we must put nature at the heart of a pandemic recovery.
Towards Greater Transparency and Sustainable Investment: Turning the Tide on Ocean Plastic Pollution
This session, moderated by Naka Kondo, The Economist Intelligence Unit, examined the issue and steps needed to address the crisis of ocean plastic pollution.
Nanqing Jiang, Secretary General, All China Environment Federation, said China is responsible for approximately 30% of the world’s plastic production and taking a whole value chain approach is necessary, as recycling alone is not sufficient to address plastic pollution.
Dominic Charles, Director of Finance and Transparency, Minderoo Foundation, called for mandated, legislated reporting of plastic footprints, and traceability standards to trace and validate recycled plastic.
Jacob Duer, President and CEO, Alliance to End Plastic Waste, said plastic pollution should be stopped at the source, and questioned what infrastructure solutions could be used.
Phineas Glover, Head of Environment, Social and Governance, Credit Suisse, noted we are only now starting to trace the path to zero plastic waste and understand the plastic value chain.
Praveen Hariharan, Partner and Sector Leader, IBM, shared IBM’s work addressing the data challenge and bringing together platforms and harmonized methodologies to support decision-making and allocate funding.
Heidi Tait, Founder and CEO, Tangaroa Blue Foundation, highlighted citizen science as a key but undervalued resource, the need for a strategic framework, avoiding duplication of efforts, and increased confidence and trust.
Novrizal Tahar, Director General of Solid and Hazardous Waste Management, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Indonesia, outlined various ministerial regulations and initiatives to reduce marine plastic litter, including application of “extended producer responsibility.”
Tomoe Kotani, Deputy Director Division of Global Environment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan, called for new business models to accelerate the move towards a circular economy in the region.
Hans Brattskar, Special Envoy for UNEA Presidency, Ministry of Climate and Environment, Norway, called the SPBF a unique opportunity for all stakeholders to share experiences and promote joint actions.
Neth Daño, Science and Technology Major Groups, said that direct involvement of people and communities is essential, and that public information and education can help ensure meaningful participation of people in monitoring, accountability, and creating greater transparency.
Key takeaways from the session included:
- more accurate data on plastic pollution requires better use of technology;
- having information, data uniformity, and traceability on plastic waste is critically important; and
- there is a mismatch between economies of scale that fossil fuel companies enjoy compared with businesses seeking alternative solutions.
Mitigating Zoonotic Diseases – Healthy Planet Healthy People
This session, moderated by Rohit Sahgal, The Economist Intelligence Unit, explored pathways to mitigate and manage new zoonotic diseases and the impact of ecosystem degradation on human health in the Asia-Pacific region.
Colin Butler, Honorary Professor, Australian National University, said the COVID-19 pandemic should be taken as a warning and reminder of the need to collectively prepare for risk.
Jos Vandelaer, Regional Director for Emergencies, World Health Organization South-East Asia, elaborated on the One Health approach, which brings together an understanding and assessment of animal and environmental health along with human health.
Tahmina Shirin, Director, Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, Bangladesh, drew attention to the increased rate in zoonotic diseases and their link to ecosystem degradation and close-contact living.
Barbara Han, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, expressed optimism we might be reaching a tipping point, which will enable innovations in technologies and artificial intelligence to provide actionable predictions of risks to human health and the environment.
Ado Lõhmus, Permanent Representative of Estonia to UNEP, and UNEA Vice President, highlighted UNEP’s Global Environmental Data Strategy and the need to address information gaps and measure progress on the SDGs.
Edward Moncreiffe, CEO, HSBC Insurance Limited and HSBC Life, highlighted lessons learned from the pandemic, including that risk models had failed to account for globalization.
Yi Wang, Associate Professor and Researcher, Tongji University School of Medicine, said she believes the emergence of COVID-19 indicates that humans need to show more respect for the boundary between human activities and nature.
Cathy Yitong Li, UN Major Group for Children and Youth, said zoonotic diseases link closely with environmental issues and reiterated the critical importance of including youth and consulting with them throughout the policymaking process.
Anna Meloto-Wilk, Major Groups and Other Stakeholders, said the COVID-19 pandemic could have been prevented if nature had been treated differently.
Key takeaways from the session included that:
- COVID-19 should serve as a wake-up call so faster, more equitable responses to future pandemics can be implemented;
- human-wildlife conflict should be avoided where possible; and
- the purpose of organizations and financial capital should be reappraised to optimize for all of society and nature.
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