MANILA, PHILIPPINES - Asia and the Pacific is consuming more resources than its ecosystems can sustain, threatening the future of the region's beleaguered forests, rivers, and oceans as well as the livelihoods of those who depend on them, says a new joint report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and WWF.
The joint ADB-WWF study, Ecological Footprint and Investment in Natural Capital in Asia and the Pacific, focuses on ways of preserving key large-scale regional ecosystems, including the forests of Borneo, the marine wealth of the Coral Triangle, the Mekong region's diverse habitats, and the mountainous Eastern Himalayas. These areas contain some of the region's most important natural resources on which millions of people depend for their sustenance and development.
"Major ecosystems such as the Coral Triangle and the heart of the Borneo rainforest are vital to the future of Asia and the Pacific," said Nessim Ahmad, ADB's Director for Environment and Safeguards. "We need large-scale programmatic efforts based on regional cooperation and local level action to make sure they are sustained for future generations."
By 2008, the per capita natural resources in these regional ecosystems had shrunk by about two-thirds compared to 1970. Despite the rich natural capital in the region, the report says that biodiversity is in decline in all types of ecosystems, with the rate of species loss about twice the global average.
The report uses the Living Planet Index to measure changes in the health of ecosystems across the Asia and the Pacific. The global index fell by around 30% over the past four decades, while the Indo-Pacific region saw a 64% decline in key populations of species during the same period.
Across the region, the gap between the ecological footprint - or human demand for natural resources - and the environment's ability to replenish those resources is widening.
"The challenge for countries in Asia and the Pacific is to manage their natural capital sustainably, so that they maintain ecosystem services in the interests of long-term economic development," said WWF's Director General Jim Leape. "We need to create mechanisms that make protecting our resources the right economic choice for the communities that use and depend on them."
Investing in the region's resources pays. It is estimated that every dollar spent on conservation efforts would yield an economic and social value of ecosystems worth over $100.
ADB places environmentally sustainable growth at the core of its work to help reduce poverty in the region. It approved a record 59 projects supporting environmental sustainability in 2011, which amounted to about $7 billion in financing.
The report was launched to commemorate World Environment Day, just two weeks before governments, businesses and civil society gather in Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20. Twenty years on from the historic 1992 Earth Summit, the meeting will be a key opportunity for global leaders to set a new course toward a sustainable future.