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UN Experts Say Asian Economic Boom Environmentally Unsustainable

United Nations environmental experts say booming economic growth in Asia and the Pacific is placing unsustainable pressure on their environments, and new approaches beyond mere pollution control are needed. The findings were presented in a report on the state of the Asia-Pacific environment.

The environmental head of the U.N. Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Rae Kwon Chung, says the current model of rapid economic growth in the region is not sustainable from an environmental point of view.

"We cannot continue this pattern of economic growth in the long run. We have to shift away from the 'grow first, clean up later' approach, towards 'green' growth,'" Chung said.

This was the central finding of the U.N. commission's latest five-year environmental assessment. The commission defines "green growth" as economic development that includes environmental protections.

The report states that Asia's rates of industrial production and export earnings have far exceeded global averages over the past decade.

But it notes that the region's rates of population growth, poverty, urbanization, and use of land and water resources have also been higher.

As a result, Chung says, the region is living beyond its environmental means.

"It (the region) has a limited carrying capacity compared to any other region of the world, while its consumption and production is far exceeding its carrying capacity, which shows that this region is facing the most serious challenge of environmental sustainability in the future," he said.

Chung says the growth of the urban middle class in the region is leading to rising consumerism, which is depleting energy and natural resources while producing more waste. And rising demand for energy, raw materials and water is causing economic, social and environmental conflict.

The U.N. report says areas where Asian countries can improve efficiency are infrastructure and transportation - for example, emphasizing the construction of railways, which are more energy-efficient, over highways.

Chung says the region should also make greater investment in environmental technologies such as solar and wind power and renewable natural resources.

He notes that countries like China have set ambitious goals in their development plans to improve the efficient use of resources such as energy and water.

And he says the green growth approach has already been approved by the environment ministers of all 54 members of the U.N. Asia and Pacific Commission. As a result he says there is hope.