International Conference on Sustainable Development in the Context of Climate Change

24 September 2009, Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand

Professor Said Irandoust, President of Asian Institute of Technology

H.E. Mr. Lennart Linner, Ambassador of Kingdom of Sweden

Distinguished speakers

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great joy for me to be with you at AIT to commemorate its “50 years of empowering Asia” and to launch AIT’s “Center of Excellence on Sustainable Development In The Context of Climate Change”.  This event marks a remarkable institution’s history of training and education in our region spanning the past five decades. Over this period, through support from multilateral and bilateral programmes, literally thousands of young scholars and government officials from Asia Pacific were provided the opportunity for advanced education at AIT.  It was there that they were able to interact with colleagues from other countries, share ideas and develop new approaches to meeting development challenges.   With their new skills and knowledge they were able to return home and take on the challenges of development in their own countries.

Given the multiple crises now facing our region, AIT should be congratulated on launching it’s new Center.  Your forward looking research agenda will help contribute to the body of knowledge being developed regionally and globally that provides decision makers with the science and information they require to make future policy decisions.

Distinguished speakers and participants

Most developing countries in Asia and the Pacific face two inextricably linked challenges– overcoming poverty and combating climate change. Failure to tackle one will undermine efforts to deal with the other.   This region has two-thirds of the world’s poor.  At the same time, our region has experienced over 80 percent of global casualties related to extreme weather events over the past seven years.  Climate change is likely to increase both the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events as well as the number of related casualties.

Increased carbon emissions have caused extreme climate variability; from protracted floods and drought conditions to an increasing number of typhoons and storms. Rising temperatures are already starting to melt Himalayan glaciers, a source of ten large Asian river systems and the lifeline for 1.3 billion people in the region. The expected rise in sea levels from melting polar ice sheets will worsen the already vulnerable delta areas of the Ganga-Brahmaputra and the Mekong River basins. For many of our Pacific Island States it is a looming question of their survival or extinction.  Shifting weather patterns are also projected to adversely affect food security in the region as climatic conditions for crops change and water availability becomes an issue.  AIT’s research on water and adaptation to climate change will be particularly relevant in this context.

The worst affected will be the poor. Only 20 percent of our people have access to comprehensive health care coverage. This means when disasters strike the foundations for social protection, and therefore recovery, are absent. Poor people also tend to only have access to marginalized lands in areas prone to flooding, landslides and other hazards. Lacking the appropriate infrastructure to mitigate related impacts makes them more vulnerable to disasters.

The time has come to restore stability and sustainability into the Asia-Pacific region’s economic and social order. The economic crisis has provided the region with a unique opportunity to do this.  Fiscal stimulus packages in the region offer unprecedented opportunities for designing development policies that will bring about more inclusive and sustainable development. Pro-poor policies aimed at strengthening social protection systems will not only create the social foundations for more inclusive societies, they will also help address issues of vulnerability at the heart of the current climate change debate.   But we need to go beyond this. The development challenge facing us is how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining the economic growth necessary for development.

ESCAP member States have started to discuss new development pathways that are climate friendly.  Green Growth provides the economic pathway to achieve a shift towards a climate friendly economic development path.  It is defined as ecologically sustainable economic progress that fosters low-carbon, socially inclusive development.  In other words, Green Growth is economic growth that uses environmental resources productively, maintaining or restoring environmental quality and ecological integrity, while meeting the needs of all people.

The transition of technologies and markets towards a low-carbon economy is already happening.  It will require massive investments into low-carbon, greener technologies and industries.    As such, the Secretary General’s Green New Deal promotes a low-carbon development path which will help guide countries transition to the new economy. Developing countries in our region have significant potential to achieve a less resource and carbon intensive pathway by adopting right policies and re-directing future investments into the appropriate types of infrastructure. However they cannot be expected to take on the huge financial costs associated with this transition on their own.  Not only do they lack the financial resources, but also the skills and technologies.  Developing countries should have access to climate friendly technologies at affordable prices. This will require establishing programs that identify low cost, green technologies.  It will also require developing countries to build their capacity to assess these technologies using appropriate economic, social, safety and environmental criteria.  AIT’s Center of Excellence, and in particular its renewable technologies programme, can play an important role in partnership with ESCAP to help make a difference to our region.

Implementing the green growth agenda will require financial flows with implications for aid, trade, finance as well as debt systems.  In particular, developed countries should scale up ODA, and financing mechanisms under the post 2012 framework.  It also challenges us to find ways to accelerate the development and transfer of affordable technologies. This will include identifying mechanisms and incentives to remove obstacles to green technological development and transfer in the Asia-Pacific region.

But governments cannot be expected to achieve this paradigm shift on their own. At the level of the individual, we are already witnessing shifts in consumption patterns that will need to be further promoted by measures that target the micro-economy. Here partnership with civil society is critical.  New partnerships will be required that include the private sector. Public-private partnerships can be used to mobilize untapped resources and innovation in the business sector to help fight climate change.

New science, technologies, policies and skills will be required to assist with the transition towards a low carbon, green growth economy.  In this regard, AIT ‘s Center of Excellence has an important role to play in our region.  Today, we are signing a new Memorandum of Understanding between ESCAP and AIT. The MOU has two major elements. ESCAP and AIT will work together to promote technology capacity of small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) for their effective use of environmentally sustainable and low-carbon technologies. We will also strengthen our partnership for supporting national innovation systems that can help them achieve the Millennium Development Goals and foster the rapid diffusion of new and emerging technologies. In this respect, I am pleased to have a growing partnership between ESCAP and AIT.

Distinguished speakers and participants,

Next week, governments from around the world will meet here in Bangkok to negotiate and draft the post-2012 framework for the adoption at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December 2009.  I will be sharing many of the same thoughts and views with delegates participating in these discussions.   AIT’s continuing work, and the establishment of its Center of Excellence are part of the building blocks our region will need to put in place while responding to the challenges of climate change and sustainable development.  I congratulate you again on this auspicious day and look forward to working in partnership with your institution to help our region realize its full potential.

I thank you.