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UN Environment Meeting in Asia to Set Regional Priorities - 2003-05-21

United Nations experts say Asia must reduce the environmental damage caused by rapid economic growth. Regional officials are gathering in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta to discuss how to change long-standing behavior.

Delegates at the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) conference in Indonesia this week will set out regional environmental priorities. The list will be presented at a global gathering in Morocco next month.

UNEP deputy Executive Director Shafqat Kakakhel says sustainable development is a critical issue for many countries in Asia.

"The patterns of consumption and production that have evolved over the past 200 years - since the Industrial Revolution - they are unsustainable because they are putting almost unbearable pressure on natural resources," he said.

Highlighting the challenges ahead, a U.N. environmental report notes that if motor vehicle ownership in China, Indonesia and the Philippines reaches the global average, an additional 200 million cars will be on the roads.

Rising prosperity across the Asia-Pacific region since the 1970s has cut poverty levels significantly. But that growth has come at a cost: depleted natural resources, air pollution, and damaged ecological systems.

Mr. Kakakhel says economic development can not be sustained unless cleaner technologies are adopted, even if they cost more than old methods.

"They are eventually economically unsustainable because by excessively using natural resources and energy they are endangering the base of economic activity," said Mr. Kakakhel.

He said individuals, companies and governments must use less energy and find ways to pollute less.

Governments, he said, need to apply tough legislation to encourage people to adopt new technologies. He also said there more must be done to encourage consumers to choose products that cause less pollution or use fewer resources.