The first day of the UNEP Switch-Asia Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) conference kicked off with all the requisite excitement and enthusiasm that all first days of conferences come packaged with, as the 130 government officials, business leaders, and civil society pioneers congregated at the conference hall of the Plaza Athénée Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. Student reporters Andreas Slotte, Adam Wong, Mas Dino Radin, Ja Kun Koo, Chey Phearon, and myself were amongst the early risers, finalising our “battle plans” for the next 48 hours with eager anticipation, and just as enthusiastically applying ourselves to a dazzling array of delicious breakfast foods.
For most of us, the UNEP Switch-Asia SCP conference is the first global conference that we will be reporting from. We are a rare sight at an event that primarily targets regional and national public policy professionals. Many high-level government officials were in attendance including the Secretary of Climate Change Commission from the Office of the President of the Philippines and the Deputy Minister of Environment and Energy from Maldives to name a few.
Despite this, the atmosphere was cordial and friendly, and the discussions interactive and engaging. With the attendees number capped at 130, it appears to be a structure that has worked remarkably well, and it was not surprising to find oneself sharing thoughts during the lunch break with the Minister for Environmental Protection of China seated to your left and the Deputy Director of the Department of Environment from the Government of Bangladesh to your right. In fact, that was the actual experience for one of the student reporters.
Action Speaks Louder Than Words But Do They Know That?
The first day began with a traditional conference photograph and welcoming remarks from the organisers from UNEP, Switch-Asia, Asia Pacific Roundtable on SCP, and Thailand government officials. On the menu on the first day were three sessions covering a range of issues. Depending on your taste, you could choose from sustainable development in an era of resource depletion and financial instability, international framework for SCP: opportunities for Asia, and governance for SCP in developing countries in Asia.
Naturally, many of the discussions on day one were largely broad statements with very few specifics. Most of the presentations focused on bringing all participants up to speed with the history of SCP, regional key drivers contributing to the consumption and production problems, and some of the challenges governments face with the implementation of SCP policies. Mary Ann Lucille Sering, Vice-Chairperson of the Climate Change Commission within the Office of the President of the Philippines, discussed an integrated approach to SCP involving all relevant stakeholders but also identified critical problems in execution that needed to be addressed, such as the misperception of SCP as a restrictive policy vis-a-vis traditional production.
Similarly, Dr Ashok Kosla from Development Alternatives India focused his presentation on the problematic trends of population increase, poverty, and pollution. Professor Steve Keen explained the flaws of neoclassical economics and how corporations have been taking advantage of “free” energy and natural resources. In his opinion, the current economic system is flawed because externalities are not factored into our pricing mechanism. Whilst the topic of “solutions” was touched upon throughout the day – such as investments in people through education – most of it has primarily been lip service.
Regardless, many interesting topics were discussed and informational knowledge was exchanged between the participants to bring everyone onto the same page. As we wrapped up the day, the Student Reporter team looked forward to another eventful day of exotic Thai food as we explore the possibilities of practical actions governments can take to incentivise SCP-oriented solutions. Tuesday, November 13th, looked to focus on the planning, implementation, and vision of Asia SCP in the future. In essence, the meat of the sandwich is here. If the dignitaries and committee members are indeed serious about finding solutions, this is where we can hope to find them.
With so many high-level government officials in one conference room, the UNEP Asia SCP conference is a rare opportunity to learn from the lessons of past policy failures and successes and develop replicable SCP policies regionally. While the first day has been filled with interesting anecdotes on the broad drivers for SCP, more emphasis should now be placed on recommendations and specific activities for the future. So let’s proceed on a note of cautious optimism.