Environment Ministers and senior officials from the Asia and the Pacific region pledged concerted action to tackle the crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution at the Fifth Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia Pacific, with the aims of restoring planetary balance and protecting people.
Representatives from 30 Member States in the Asia-Pacific region convened in-person and online for the conference, which took place from 4-5 October 2023 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The Forum was co-organised by the Ministry of Environment of Sri Lanka and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Speaking at the Forum, Ranil Wickremesinghe, President of Sri Lanka, said “The interlinked and cascading effects of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution – the triple planetary crisis – are demanding a heavy toll on individuals, communities and threatening life on our planet.”
Countries across the Asia and the Pacific region are bearing the impacts of a heating planet, from extreme weather events to island nations facing rising sea levels.
“We, the Pacific Island countries, face an existential threat from the growing global environmental crises. Conferences like this one offer hope that we will unite to overcome our shared crises, seeking partnerships for security, prosperity and resource protection,” said Sitiveni Rabuka, Prime Minister of Fiji, in a video message to the Ministerial segment of the Forum.
The Forum outcomes will inform deliberations at the UN Environment Assembly, the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment. The UN Environment Assembly will hold its sixth session at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya from 26 February to 01 March 2024, under the theme “Effective, inclusive and sustainable multilateral actions to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.”
UNEP Deputy Executive Director, Elizabeth Mrema, said “Global cooperation and multilateral action are our only hope to avert the impending catastrophes, signs of which are all around us. They are the bridge between national action and global ambition. A bridge that needs to be reinforced with urgency. The action of Member States and all stakeholders in the Asia-Pacific region will be critical to delivering for people and for planet.”
As part of the Forum outcomes, Japan presented a draft resolution for the upcoming session of the UN Environment Assembly on synergistic approaches to address the triple planetary crisis and support sustainable development. Forum host Sri Lanka presented a draft resolution on climate justice that would promote the establishment of a Climate Justice Forum and seek to increase awareness around the issue. A draft resolution concept was presented by Nepal on the Hindu Kush Himalayas, to address snow melt and environmental damage caused by climate change. Additionally, India noted that it was considering a resolution proposal on sustainable lifestyles.
Naseer Ahamed, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Environment said “Sri Lanka appreciates the support countries attending the Forum have shown for our initiative to create a Climate Justice Forum, and the Government of Sri Lanka is willing to host the first Climate Justice Forum in the Sri Lanka pavilion at COP28 in Dubai. There is also a need to establish a Biosphere Reserve Bank to give direct access to funds for countries most vulnerable to climate-related disasters. With climate finance falling short of the levels promised, I call on all developing nations most vulnerable to climate change to unite and to amplify their demand for justice.”
The Forum was preceded by a self-organized regional Youth Environment Forum, the Asia-Pacific Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum and the UN Science-Policy-Business Forum for Asia and the Pacific Region.
Āniva Clarke of Samoa, representing the Children and Youth Major Group to UNEP, said: “Asia-Pacific children and youth play a dual role: inheriting the world’s most populated and diverse region while actively addressing major environmental issues such as Southeast Asia’s deforestation, South Asia’s air pollution, and the rising sea levels threatening Pacific islands. We urge member states to prioritise climate resilience, especially for coastal nations at risk from rising sea levels.” .