Countries in the Asia and Pacific Region, home to some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, need to work together to "scale up and replicate" actions to sustain natural capital and enhance human welfare.
A new report shows that the Asia Pacific region is consuming more resources than can be produced sustainably, depleting its natural capital. Regional cooperation between countries on the management of large-scale ecosystems can however contribute to human well-being and a healthier planet.
The report, "Ecological Footprint and Investment in Natural Capital in Asia and the Pacific," published by ADB in partnership with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) provides a regional perspective on WWF's bi-annual Living Planet Report. It states that biodiversity in the region is in decline in all types of ecosystems, including in forests, rivers and oceans. The study also provides a snapshot of some of the most promising ideas that can help drive the urgent need to move forward on green growth. ADB Environment Specialist Bruce Dunn speaks to adb.org about how protecting natural capital requires clear vision, careful stewardship, and tangible investments, to ensure effective protection, management, and wise use of the region's precious resources.
Why is it important for the Asia-Pacific region to manage and invest in natural capital sustainably?
The world's population is using its natural resources at a rate 50% faster than can be replenished. If we do not change our behavior, by 2030 we will need two planets worth of resources to support us. In some countries the depletion of natural resources is driven by massive exports of unsustainably produced timber, fish and other commodities to other countries in the region and the rest world. While these trends are of concern for biodiversity conservation, they are equally troubling due to the potential loss of valuable ecosystem services that support human welfare. Food, fiber, timber, clean water, energy, flood control and carbon storage are but a few of the myriad services provided by functioning ecosystems. As we lose biodiversity, these services start to break down, with consequent impacts on economic growth. For example, it has been estimated that if we continue to destroy biodiversity and ecosystems at the current rate we will lose ecosystems services worth 10-100 times the cost of protecting them. Investing in natural capital therefore makes both dollars and sense.
What are the key challenges facing the region in terms of managing natural capital?
The study enumerates some of these challenges with glaring facts: The Heart of Borneo has lost an average of 850,000 hectares every year for the past 25 years; over 40% of the coral reefs and mangroves in the Coral Triangle have disappeared over the last 40 years; in India's Ganges River, the loss of glacier meltwater from the Himalayas could reduce July-September flows by two thirds, causing water shortages for 500 million people and 37 per cent of India's irrigated land. Clearly, this is much more than a conservation issue. These areas provide socially and economically valuable services - such as food, clean water and climate regulation - that is often overlooked in government decision-making processes.
What is ADB doing and what can we do more of?
With the promotion of environmental sustainability as one of its key strategic agendas, ADB supports efforts to maintain and enhance biodiversity and ecosystems in the region. Many of ADB's projects directly support sustainable natural resources management, and safeguard provisions aim to ensure that no net loss of biodiversity occurs as a result of ADB projects. In 2011 ADB approved a record 59 projects supporting environmental sustainability, which amounted to about $7 billion in financing. With cofinancing from a range of partners such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), more that $300 million was approved for projects supporting natural resource management, biodiversity conservation and wetland management and restoration.
"Large-scale ecosystems are public goods that provide massive benefits for human welfare and require local actions and coordinated management at national and regional levels."
One important area is support for regional cooperation programs to improve the management of large-scale transboundary ecosystems such as the Heart of Borneo Initiative, the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security , the Greater Mekong Subregion Core Environment Program , and the Living Himalayas Framework for Cooperation. These programs recognize that large-scale ecosystems are public goods that provide massive benefits for human welfare and require local actions and coordinated management at national and regional levels.
On June 20, global leaders from the public sector, business and civil society are meeting in Rio de Janeiro as part of the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to help strengthen compacts and partnerships for sustainable development and green economies. ADB will be actively participating in the event to draw attention to key issues facing the Asia-Pacific region and to share experiences, challenges and opportunities for the region to transition towards more inclusive and environmentally sustainable forms of growth.
How important are partnerships?
Partnerships are one of the keys to finding solutions to these problems. Our decade long-partnership with WWF helps demonstrate what can be done by bringing the comparative strengths and expertise of different organizations together. This report does not just document what might be done - it lets people know what is being done now through visionary partnerships such as those that have developed between countries.