Day 2  |  21 September

SESSION 1:

Asia’s Environmental Priorities and the Business and Human Rights Agenda

09:00-10:15 ICT

Background

The scale, severity and sources of Asia’s environmental challenges are both shocking and largely undisputed. Forty-nine of the top 50 cities most impacted by air pollution are found in the region. Globally, forty-two percent of deaths due to unsafe or inadequate supply of water occur in Asia. With a long and low-lying coastline, Asia is also considered to be among the most vulnerable regions to climate change. The World Bank forecasts that nearly 50 million will have been displaced in the Asia-Pacific region by 2050. In some settings, Asia’s manufacturing, agriculture, transportation and extractives industries, among others, are having devastating impacts on the lives, livelihoods and human rights of millions of people.

 

Obstacales to addressing these challenges are both formidable and longstanding.

Across the region, a lack of systemitized data collection processes and sharing protocols have slowed the pace of progress towards solutions. In many contexts, resources and capacities are not leveraged to enforce environmental laws and regulations. Elsewhere, political will is sapped by economic imperatives, bureaucratic inertia and powerful lobbying efforts.

In October of 2021, the Human Rights Council recognized a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right. What might the creation of this right mean for Asia, especially where environmental safeguards are already written into national constitutions? What application do voluntary principles play in promoting better environmental stewardship by business, when inflation is spiking and supply chain disruptions are closing factories? What are the key policy approaches governments should take, fully aware of the trade offs of action versus inaction?

 

Objectives

 

The key objectives of this session are to:

  • Outline the key obstacles holding back progress to combat air pollution, water pollution and climate change and priority solutions that should be undertaken by business and government

  • Detail the place of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in providing answers or pathways for action

  • Explain how the recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment might serve as a lever of change towards more responsible environmental stewardship

  • Summarize any tradeoffs that might be borne by societies and economies from either radical or incremental action

Guiding Questions

Panelists will participate in a dialogue and not provide presentations. Instead, they reflect on the following questions but also be asked to react to more pointed remarks made by the participants:

  • Why is data still a challenge to understanding the scope and scale of the problem?

  • Are existing laws and regulations impacting on business operations being enforced in full and if not, why not? What role does does public interest litigation have in pushing results?

  • Is radical change necessary or is a graduated approach more realistic and also worth pursuing?

  • What is the most promising way to encourage stronger environmental stewardship by business in the Asia context?

 
Image by Amir Hosseini