Asia Pacific CSO Statement to the second session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-2)
May 23, 2016
On the occasion of the second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2), we,
members of the Asia Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism (AP-RCEM), wish to convey our
recommendations for consideration by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP),
member-states, civil society organizations from other regions and formations, and other
stakeholders, This is based on a framework of development justice founded on the bases of
redistributive, economic, social, gender and environmental justice, and accountability to the peoples, and
places people in the heart of the sustainable development goals
We welcome the continued commitment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to
gather member states, UN agencies, international NGOs, civil society, and the private sector to
discuss and move forward with implementing and reviewing progress on the environmental
dimensions of the SDGs. Of special note is the Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of
Asia-Pacific (FMEAAP) organized by UNEP in 2015 to allow CSOs to interface with governments at
the regional level. We hope the FMEAAP will evolve into a principal platform for regional
deliberations on environmental issues and ensure the delivery of environmental commitments. At
the same time, we hope to see linkages and coherence with other regional and sub-regional forums
such as UN ESCAP’s Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development, an important platform for
follow up that feeds into the High Level Political Forum.
Any agreement, be it Agenda 2030 or its means of implementation and follow-up, should put people
and people’s rights at the center of priorities. The state of the world’s most marginalized people
would be our best indicators of the health of every ecosystem. However, small farmers, peasants,
pastoralists, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, workers, especially the women among them who are
natural stewards and frontline defenders of the environment, remain invisible in the goals and
indicators. It is as if they are not major stakeholders in their respective ecosystems. Their voices
must be heard, their rights respected, their capacities to protect and manage the environment
enhanced. We believe that sustainable development should squarely respond to the question of “for
whom?” as it talks about “leaving no one behind.”
This year’s theme for UNEA-2 is delivering on the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for
Sustainable Development. We believe that in order to do this, there is a need to recognize the
inextricable linkage of the economic, social and environmental dimensions. Environmental
challenges confronting communities everyday – particularly rural, indigenous, workers, migrant,
urban poor women – cannot be separated from the underlying causes of poverty, powerlessness
and lack of access to resources. The neoliberal extractive-based model of economy comes at
massive costs to the world’s natural resource base, and creates gross inequalities of wealth, power
and resources between countries, between rich and poor and between men and women.
Delivering on the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda can only be done with a serious
commitment to deliver redistributive justice, economic justice, social and gender justice,
environmental justice, and put forward accountability to the peoples, This compels us to recognize
the historical responsibilities of countries and elites within countries whose consumption,
production and extraction patterns have led to human rights violations, global warming, and
environmental disasters. Putting forward justice also means compelling those actors to alleviate
and compensate those with the least culpability but otherwise suffer the most. This is already
reflected in the Rio Principles, notably the principles of common but differentiated responsibility
(CBDR) and the Polluter Pays principle.
Delivering on the environmental dimension of the 2030 agenda can only be done with addressing
the global macroeconomic and trade policies that are threatening the three pillars of sustainable
development. The megatrade and investment agreements like TPPA, TTIP, RCEP and other mega
regional and North-South FTAs are undermining environmental policy regulations and natural
resource conservation by allowing transnational corporations to sue national governments in
secret arbitration cases under Investor-State-Dispute-Settlement (ISDS) clauses for any policy
changes that may reduce profits. Pressures from harsh competition promoted by current trade
regime lead to increased exploitation of natural resources. Trade and financial policies that
perpetuate poverty, food insecurity and all forms of inequality must be abolished.
PEOPLE’S PRIORITIES IN ASIA AND THE PACIFIC
1. Access to resources, inequality, and conflict
Majority of small-scale farmers in the region do not have their own land to till. Within the region,
more than 50% of the agricultural labor force is comprised of women, whereas a very insignificant
number of them have control over land and agricultural resources. Land as a basic resource is
concentrated in the hands of a few actors who are also big players in the global economy.
Unsustainable practices of large-scale mining TNCs, agrochemical industries, and food and energy
giants have destroyed ecosystems and left large swaths of land and nearby bodies of water
Facing poverty in the countryside, rural folk migrate to the cities in their millions, where they
contend with living in cramped, unsanitary spaces, and join the ranks of the urban poor.
Inequality in the region worsens as this condition of unequal share and access to resources persists.
Inadequate access to resources, coupled to poor social service delivery, places peoples and
communities at higher risk and vulnerability from environmental shocks and climate disasters.
While there is an acknowledgment from UN and state agencies on people’s issues in the region,
there is still no recognition in the UN processes of the real drivers of these problems, namely the
profit-driven global economy.
Inequitable access to resources causes perennial conflicts in many parts of the region. In 2013,
Indonesia alone had 427 agrarian conflicts over nearly 3 million hectares of land. Some Asia-Pacific
countries have adopted environment protection measures to systematically displace indigenous
peoples from their ancestral lands and restrict them from practicing traditional agricultural
systems, thus threatening their livelihoods and undermining their right to conserve their intangible
cultural heritage. These and countless stories of people’s struggles to defend their lands and
protect the environment show that the assault on the environment often happen with violation of
people’s rights and suppression of their voices. Any solution to environment challenges will only
succeed if it recognizes community control over productive resources based on stewardship
principles, respects their participation in decision-making processes, and empowers communities.
2. Sustainable consumption and production
The unsustainable practice of overextraction and overproduction is at the heart of unsustainable
consumption and production. Larger and larger swaths of land are mined logged, and turned into
large-scale monocrop plantations to serve the interests of large corporations. Water is similarly
extracted at increasing rates to serve the increasing demands of industrial production and
agriculture, while the stocks of fish, water, mineral, and oil and gas from coasts and oceans are
similarly exploited to serve industry. Big transnational corporations continue to enjoy access to
what should be preserved natural resources for exploitation and resource extraction. Species of
flora and fauna are being threatened with extinction as their habitats are transformed, genetic
diversity artificially controlled, and their populations depleted.
Overextraction and overproduction in the name of profit has leached chemicals to our land, water,
soil, and air, and has poisoned ecosystems and causes impacts felt by human health. Petro-based
chemicals and pesticides can never be safe, even in their smallest doses, interfere with the hormone
system of humans and animals and cause irreversible, lifelong damage that can even extend to the
We hope that UNEA 2 can effectively address issues of chemicals & waste including the
consideration of a binding international tax on chemical and pharmaceutical sales for clean-up and
health protection. Issues of chemicals and waste need to also consider that not just chemicals
remain in our bodies but also throughout the whole food chain thus it needs to integrate
biodiversity and ecosystem protection into national health, economy, agriculture policies and
We are also looking forward that meaningful agreements be achieved with regard to the
sustainable use and management of water resources, including the conservation and sustainable
use of the world’s oceans, seas, coral reefs, and mangroves, as enshrined in Goals 6 and 14 of
The dominance of a profit-oriented economy is also shaping global consumption. We see the
proliferation of disposable products, bottles, and small sachets of everything. What used to be
“durables” have become disposable like mobiles, laptops, and cars, creating mountains of poisonous
waste. It is not the consumers who drive this unsustainable extraction and production, but the
other way around: to sell products and prop up profits, a trillion-dollar industry thrives on creating
demand and dictating on the tastes and patterns of consumption. Consumerism is a culture created
out of a need to make profit out of overproduction without regard for sustainability and its impacts
on the environment.
These patterns of production and consumption are not just wasteful but also proliferate
inequalities. The world consumes more than half the world’s resources, but half the world’s wealth
is in the hands of only 2% of the population. Despite millions of tons of food produced each day,
with 1.3 billion tons going to waste each year, 1 billion people worldwide suffer from acute hunger.
This pattern of production and consumption has to stop. The world’s fragile ecosystems are telling
us extraction and production for super-profit has to end.
We can only speak of sustainable production when natural resource extraction is not defined by the
profits earned by corporations, but by the needs of our communities and our peoples to survive and
develop, and with a view to ensure their availability for generations to come.
We call upon states to support the promotion and development of traditional occupation that
conserves and sustains biological diversity and also brings in livelihoods to communities.
Traditional knowledge systems and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities on agroecological farming and diverse production systems that have minimal dependence on chemicals
will not only address reduction in GHG emissions from agriculture, but will also revive the soil and
increase its capacity for carbon sequestration. This contributes to attaining sustainable land use,
healthy people and healthy environment. Today these sustainable resource management faces
challenges of the unregulated globalized market systems and the invasion of extractive industries.
We also call on the development of a shift towards the production of small-scale biofuels and
community-based and managed sustainable energy resources.
Lastly, we add our caution to the practice of adding ‘sustainable’ and ‘clean’ to industries which are
in their essence unsustainable and polluting, such as “sustainable mining”, “clean coal”, and now the
new concept of ‘sustainable chemicals’ .
3. Environment and health
The flipside of urbanization expansion, land conversion and industrialization in Asia-Pacific is a
grim landscape of environmental degradation that brings resurgence of infectious diseases such as
dengue and malaria, sanitation-related diseases and zoonotic diseases like avian flu that take heavy
toll on human lives, productivity and public expenditures. Pressures to increase agricultural
productivity to feed the region’s burgeoning population and satisfy the consumption demands of its
growing middle class is equated with massive use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers to extract
more from continuously shrinking agricultural lands and from encroachment of forest areas for
more intensified farming.
To minimize adverse impacts of hazardous chemicals on the environment and human health,
governments must take measures to achieve by 2020 the sound management of chemicals and all
wastes throughout their life cycle as envisioned in the Strategic Approach to International
Chemicals Management (SAICM). The phase out of marketing and use of highly hazardous
pesticides (HHPs) and the promotion of and support to sustainable ecological agriculture would
greatly contribute to secure a healthy environment and promote good health in both rural and
urban communities. Vector-borne and sanitation- and hygiene-related diseases need to be
addressed through more holistic approaches and not through the use of toxic chemicals that only
provide short-sighted remedies, aggravate ecological imbalance and expose people to more health
Segmented and sectoral approaches in addressing environment and health issues result to focusing
on symptoms rather than combating the root causes. Adopting a complex systems approach and
recognizing that social, economic and ecological systems function together and often operate
together as ‘drivers and exacerbating factors’ that reinforce gender inequalities and abuse of human
rights, discrimination and marginalisation will lead to cross-cutting and intersectional strategies in
gender, health and environment. Addressing air pollution as a chronic issue and as a development
priority, for example, requires much more than technological fixes but requires wider societal shifts
that recognize the human rights of women and their families to safe and adequate housing
conditions and facilities, safe and healthy food, clean water, safe and renewable fuel options, and
overall right to health.
4. Capacity building and use of environmentally sound technologies
We agree that efforts should be made at the UN level, as well as regional and national offices, to
promote education and training for sustainable development, especially environmental education.
We also recognize that there is still inequality between developing and developed countries in
terms of access to and quality of education tools and materials and technology which translate to
differing human capacities to understand and help implement the environmental dimension of the
sustainable development goals.
In the spirit of leaving no one behind, we enjoin member states to continue to promote and enhance
capacity building for developing countries, most especially among the poor and marginalized. This
includes mobilizing financial resources as well as technology support, which can be guided by the
Bali Strategic Plan for technology support and capacity building.
We call for the development as well as transfer of safe, appropriate, and environmentally,
economically and socially sound adaptation and mitigation technologies. Technologies used and
introduced to deliver on the environmental dimension of the SDGs should not impinge on peoples’
freedoms, peace and security, and basic human rights.
We urge the implementation of a genuinely sustainable technology transfer policy that develops,
empowers, and teaches local scientists, technologists, engineers, students, workers, as well as
communities to build their own innovative technologies, using locally available materials at cheaper
cost, to address the environmental dimensions of the sustainable development goals.
We also invite the MS to include the technology assessment to ensure civil society participation
with a gender perspective, and integrate a multilateral, independent and participatory evaluation of
technologies for the social, economic and environmental impacts.
5. Commitments to address climate change
We find the Paris Climate Agreement to be lacking in principles and in language the principle of
common but differentiated responsibility or CBDR. CBDR is a critical pillar of multilateralism which
frames the nature of the responsibilities of developed and developing countries in the pursuit of
sustainable development. It underscores the universality of the Paris agreement as well as the need,
on principled and practical grounds, for differentiation of responsibilities between historical and
The universality of the Paris agreement ensures that all states —rich and poor alike—commit to
taking concrete actions to meet the ultimate objective of the Convention. CBDR ensures that the
share of the responsibilities to take these actions be just and equitable, based on varying and
diverse degrees of historical responsibility, national capacity, resources, levels of development and
Based on this differentiation, developed countries have far greater responsibility to deliver
actionable means of implementation across the relevant areas of financial resources, technology
and capacity development. The principle of CBDR is therefore not an excuse for inaction on the part
of developing countries; it merely contextualizes their responsibilities.
We also find no recognition in the Paris Climate Agreement of the systemic causes of climate
change. It fails to address the structures of injustice and inequality which have caused the climate
crisis, not to mention the extractive fossil fuel-based development model that has spurred
greenhouse gases to unprecedented levels.
In terms of implementation, the accountability for mitigation commitments is wholly insufficient.
Commitments made by Parties under the currently submitted INDCs are nowhere near the cuts
needed to prevent an increase in the temperatures below 2C. If not significantly ramped up,
countries’ collective emissions plans lead us to the prospect of a 3.2 – 3.7 degree rise. The Geneva
text contained an option that referred to a carbon budget, to be divided among countries according
to their “historical responsibilities, ecological footprint, capabilities and state of development”.
We support the proposal to have a concrete roadmap to achieve the goal of jointly providing USD
100 billion by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation. The roadmap should be clear and certain on a
time-table for scaling up from current disbursement levels to the full amount of the money pledged.
It should also provide reference to mechanisms to re-evaluate and review fulfilled finance
commitments in regular intervals with a view to a significant scaling up of funding beyond 2020
whereas the needs of developing countries are evaluated to be far greater.
We would like to point out that nowhere in the Paris Agreement text is the gender differentiated
impact of climate change mentioned. Women usually bear the brunt of climate crisis. We would like
to reiterate gender equality and women’s rights as it is enshrined in the Paris Agreement as well as
the Lima Work Programme on Gender adopted in 2014 that recognizes the need to include gender
mainstreaming in every area of the climate regime.
6. Commoditization of nature and natural resources
We express our worry on the adoption of the term “natural capital” and the wealth valuation of
natural resources as a norm. Placing a price tag on natural resources may further fast track the
exploitation and commercialization of natural resources and reduce these to mere commodities for
sale. For indigenous peoples, it fails to recognize intrinsic values [e.g. spiritual and cultural], of
nature’s bounty. These can be highly detrimental to the sustainability of natural resources and
other international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and SDG15.
7. Meaningful multi-stakeholder partnerships
We express our concern with the reference of multi-stakeholder partnerships that put the
centrality of the role of private sectors and IFIs particularly on financing actions to achieve the
2030 Agenda for sustainable development.
First, this may contribute to an overall diffusion of the language of partnership and obscures the
central and separate notion of a global partnership between states. Both in the Post-2015 Agenda
process and the FFD process, we have seen a retrogression and abdication of states’ responsibilities
and the push towards the private sector. Any multi-stakeholder process needs to start with the role
of States as guarantors of the rights of communities and individuals and all governments need to
ensure democratic ownership.
Second, Governance and accountability systems over multi-stakeholder partnerships in the UN
must be established before any partnership are sanctioned and carried out. Partnerships can only
be truly effective if founded on full transparency and meaningful accountability of all partners
involved. There need to be clear criteria, applied ex ante, to determine whether a specific private
sector actor is fit for a partnership in pursuit of the post-2015 goals. The criteria should include
having demonstrated sustainable development results, transparent reporting, independent
evaluation and monitoring mechanism. This is not only in the interest of human rights, but in the
interest of the UN.
The UN as an institution might never recover from the reputational shock if chief private financiers
it engages with are also chief violators of its most cherished principles. A criterion-based
accountability and governance framework, including oversight, regulation, independent third-party
evaluation, and transparent monitoring and reporting should be established for partnerships with
the private sector.
8. Spaces for critical engagement
Civil society has an important role to play in shaping, implementing, and monitoring the sustainable
development goals in all its dimensions. As representatives of civil society groups, grassroots, and
sectoral organizations, we believe our participation is crucial, particularly, in shaping the future of
We represent not just our organizations but the marginalized sectors and communities we are
mandated to serve. These are the same people who bear the brunt of the impacts of environmental
crises. As critical actors of development, it is our task to air the voices of the people from the
grassroots to such spaces.
We urge for the adoption of a resolution that would provide a bigger space of participation for civil
society groups, especially grassroots and community-based organizations lacking the resources
needed to pass the accreditation process. We also reiterate the right of the civil society
representatives to access documents and raise positions in deliberative processes. We do not want
to lose what we have gained, thus it is crucial for us to protect and demand our space in the process.
We also call for the UNEP and its member states to acknowledge and support the rights of civil
society groups to participate and organize their constituencies for better engagements and
communication with different decision-making bodies.
We are looking forward to an objective and open recognition of these recommendations towards a
more inclusive, transparent and meaningful participation in the UNEA-2.