Ensuring sustainable development: a common challenge for Asia and Europe

16 June 2010

Pisan Manawapat, Thai Ambassador to the EU, said sustainable development was a topic that is much discussed at Asian inter-regional meetings, including at this year’s ASEAN Summit. At the same time Asian leaders have emphasised that sustainable development must not create trade barriers for developing countries.

The EU and Asia face similar challenges as their bureaucracy cannot push forward sustainable development or balance industrial activities and pollution. Developing countries fear they will be adversely affected by EU environmental policies on imports so he suggested the EU establish a “single clearing house” to flag up new European directives that might restrict trade or market access.

Chris Vanden Bilcke, Head of the Environmental and Sustainable Development Unit, Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, said the new paradigm on sustainable development is that the environment is the foundation for economic and social progress.

He believed the Copenhagen outcome was quite positive with a limit set up the temperature increase, and the establishment of a green climate fund, but the disarray in negotiations demonstrated the importance of staying within the UN multilateral format,

He hoped that policy-makers would realise that economic, financial, food, climate and environmental crises are all part of the same crisis.

Richard Young, Head of Sector, EuropeAid Cooperation Office, European Commission, believed that future development and growth should be “low-carbon”. The EU and Asia can work together on this and the Yogyakarta Statement from May’s ASEM Development conference stressed the future of Asia-Europe cooperation, the importance of low-carbon development, the role of social cohesion in promoting sustainable development and the need for policy coherence.

The EU and Asia must build a mutually beneficial partnership, respond to the needs of different countries and move beyond aid to trade, finance and investment, climate change, food security and migration.

Christopher Dent, Professor in East Asia Studies, Leeds University, said Asia’s energy demands and consumption will increase substantially by 2030. Energy is increasing important in Asian-European relations, as both regions are net energy importers, and need to diversify sources.

They should jointly develop green energy paradigms, focusing on energy efficiency and renewables, promote stronger multilateral cooperation and governance on energy security. They should jointly prioritise energy cooperation during the G20 talks, work closely with ‘third regions’, such as Africa and Central Asia on energy issues and the EU should support China’s accession to the International Energy Association.

Hongyi Lai, Professor in Contemporary Chinese Studies, Nottingham University, said China’s rapid industrialisation and urbanisation have quadrupled its energy consumption, which relies heavily on coal. It will soon confront environmental degradation, with air, water and land pollution, so is planning to develop clean coal technology and increase the use of nuclear power and renewables.

China and the EU must cooperate on energy and environment issues, jointly explore and process energy resources and use their leverage in joint negotiations with energy exporters. They should cooperate on reducing CO2 emissions by engaging in low-carbon technology transfer and joint projects.

Hugo-Maria Schally, DG Environment, European Commission, believed the 2012 UN Summit on Sustainable Development (Earth Summit) would be a success as it focuses on green economy and poverty eradication, where there are great opportunities for Asia- Europe cooperation.  The two regions can join forces to move from wasteful models of consumption and production to more growth with fewer resources.

Voluntary partnership agreements between countries could be set up - for example to ensure that timber sourced in Asia is of legal original, and he agreed on the need for early warnings on regulatory developments, but preferred ‘enhanced dialogue’ to a single clearing house.

Prakash Shetty, Professor of Medicine, Southampton University, said Asia has problems with food security, as changes in consumption have diverted crops for humans to animal fodder, contributing to significant deforestation and land degradation and increasing green house gas emissions.

A recent change in agriculture has also been production of food for fuel, particularly as the EU has committed itself to obtaining 10% of transport fuel from renewable sources (i.e. biofuels). Fortunately future generations of crops for biofuels will not be using land that should be used for food production.