Press Releases

    UNEP/200
    11 February 2004

    UNEP Champions Sustainable Consumption Approach

    EU Funded Project Enables Transfer of Lessons from Europe to Asia

    (Reissued as received)

    BANGKOK, 9 February (UNEP) -- A new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) project has been launched to help make growing middle class consumerism in Asia more in tune with the environment.

    With recent figures showing Thailand’s stock market more than doubling its value in the past year and China officially projecting its economy to quadruple by 2020, UNEP says there are now more ‘middle to high income’ consumers -- those earning more than $7,000 per annum -- in Asia and the Pacific than in Western Europe and North America combined.

    And if roads of the region’s mega cities aren’t crowded enough, UNEP points out 200 million new vehicles could be on the planet’s roads -- twice the number as those in the United States today -- if India, Indonesia and China reach the average global car ownership figures.

    The European Union funded project, called Sustainable Consumption Asia or “SC.Asia”, aims to transfer knowledge and experience of consumption issues from European to Asian countries.

    According to the project manager, UNEP’s Bangkok-based Industry Officer Niclas Svenningsen, Asia would face an ecological disaster if consumption levels reached those currently seen in Europe or North America.

    “As in many western countries, Asian shopping malls and brand boutiques are being driven by a mentality of ‘shop 'til you drop, spend 'til you bend, and buy 'til you die’.  Consuming is being touted as happiness and little attention is being paid to the life behind the product.”

    The negative effects of affluent consumption such as destruction of natural resources, waste generation, traffic congestion, power supply shortages are starting to prompt some Asian governments to look at sustainable consumption, says Mr. Svenningsen, but most are focused solely on economic growth and increasing private and public consumption without addressing its consequences.

    Mr. Svenningsen said governments face complex policy issues due to the wide disparities of wealth between and within countries of the region.  For much of Asia a sustainable model would mean an increase in consumption to address poverty and ensure basic needs are met, but more affluent sectors would need to modify patterns and levels of consumption.

    There are opportunities for countries to “leap-frog” some of the phases and mistakes of western countries by adopting practices such as recycling programmes, product testing, product labelling and information, public awareness campaigns based on social research, “leading by example” and accountability by government and the private sector, and “environmentally-friendly” laws and economic incentives, Mr. Svenningsen said.

    The $500,000 SC.Asia project aims to identify existing “best practices” for promoting sustainable consumption in Europe and Asia, and then build knowledge and capacity in government agencies for their implementation.

    The UNEP, Consumers International, the Danish Consumers Council and the Centre for Environment and Development (Sri Lanka) will review approaches in Denmark, France, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

    The manual based on these findings will be published in English, Mandarin, Bahasa, Khmer, Thai, and Vietnamese and used to guide drafting national action plans for sustainable consumption in the 12 Asian countries.

    The project is scheduled for completion by October 2005 and will help governments meet their requirements related to sustainable consumption under the United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Protection.

    The UNEP has taken the lead in developing a global 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production -- one of the key outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.

    For more information please contact:  Tim Higham, Regional Information Officer, UNEP, Bangkok, tel.:  +66 2 288 2127, e-mail:  higham@un.org, or Jim Sniffen, Information Officer, UNEP New York, tel.:  +1-212-963-8094/8210, e-mail:  info@nyo.unep.org; Web site:  www.nyo.unep.org. or visit the UNEP Division of Technology, Industry and Economic's Web site on sustainable consumption - www.uneptie.org/ sustain

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