Leaders gather at UN policy forum to tackle Asia and the Pacific’s threat of climate change

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) opened its 79th session in Bangkok today, Monday, with global and regional leaders calling for urgent action to combat climate change and its dire impacts.

They urged countries in the region to meet their nationally determined contributions, intensify development of climate-sensitive technology, nurture policy environments supporting both industrial diversification and low-emission transport, as well as increase investments in renewable energy infrastructure.

“Asia and the Pacific can set the pace of climate action in the decades to come. Most countries in the region have already pledged carbon neutrality goals towards mid-century. But we need to accelerate action, with steep reductions in emissions within the next few years,” said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his opening message.

Climate change poses major challenges to all strands of sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific. The region includes 13 of the 30 countries most vulnerable to climate impacts and without concerted action, it could see an additional 7.5 million people fall into poverty by 2030.

“Each one of us and every aspect of our world is being affected. Those who are most exposed and have the fewest resources to respond to climate change, however, are the most vulnerable,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. She added that the integrated nature of climate change calls for holistic, multisectoral solutions as well as targeted support.

Fekitamoeloa Katoa ʻUtoikamanu, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Tourism of Tonga who was elected Chair of the 79th session, underscored that inclusive intergovernmental platforms such as ESCAP are a lifeline for the Pacific. “While the Pacific small island developing States contribute less than 0.03 per cent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, they are amongst the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In this regard, ESCAP is an important platform to advocate for regional and global action to achieve their climate goals.”

“The IPCC clearly demonstrates that the lower the emissions in 2030, the lower the challenge in limiting global warming to 1.5°C after 2030. Integrated planning, coherent policies, and economic stimulus investments designed to meet both the Sustainable Development Goals and climate challenges can generate significant co-benefits and speed up progress,” said Lachezara Stoeva, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

“We used to say that the choices we make will define the future for the generations after us. Now we have to say that the choices we make will decide whether there will be a future for the generations after us,” shared Csaba Kőrösi, President of the United Nations General Assembly. He added, “We are not lacking in ideas and plans; it is high time we realized them.”

Heads of State and Government from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mongolia, Palau, the Philippines, Samoa, Thailand, Tonga, Tuvalu and the Cook Islands also addressed the opening session. While voicing grave concerns about the complexities and growing threats of climate change on sustainable development, they expressed their optimism for shared solidarity and cooperation towards building a resilient, sustainable and prosperous future for all.

More than 880 participants from 61 member States, associate members and permanent observers as well as representatives from academia, international organizations, youth, business and civil society are attending the session this week.

It is expected to culminate on Friday  with the adoption of ten resolutions covering, among others, recommendations for accelerated climate action, ocean protection, environmental protection, disaster risk reduction, supporting countries in special situations, promoting digital cooperation and inclusion, the use of space applications for sustainable development, advancing sustainable urban development and launching a new decade of persons with disabilities.