Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pacific Island Nations

Role of ESCAP in the Asia-Pacific


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: ESCAP

Mains level: Paper 2-Challenges facing Asia-Pacific region and scope for cooperation

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is one of the five regional commissions under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. This article examines the common challenges that ESCAP region faces- such as danger of pollution to the marine ecosystem, lack of data about ocean, connectivity issue faces by small island nations etc. Scope for the collaboration between ESCAP nations is explored.

Strain on marine ecosystem and its implications

  • The Asia-Pacific seas provide food, livelihoods and a sense of identity, especially for coastal communities in the Pacific island states.
  • Escalating strains on the marine environment is threatening our growth and way of life.
  • In less than a century, climate change and unsustainable resource management have degraded ecosystems and diminished biodiversity.
  • Over-fishing has exponentially increased, leaving fish stocks and food systems vulnerable.
  • Marine plastic pollution originating from region’s rivers has contributed to most of the debris flooding the ocean.

Lack of data for SDG 14: Life below water

  • Insights from ‘Changing Sails: Accelerating Regional Actions for Sustainable Oceans in Asia and the Pacific’, the theme study of this year’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), focuses a lot on the need of data collection in the region.
  • At present, data are available for only two out of ten targets for the Sustainable Development Goal 14, ‘Life Below Water’.
  • Due to limitations in methodology and national statistical systems, information gaps have persisted at uneven levels across countries.

Challenges facing the region

1. Plastic Pollution

  • Asia and the Pacific produces nearly half of global plastic by volume, of which it consumes 38%.
  • Plastics represent a double burden for the ocean1) their production generates CO2 absorbed by the ocean, 2) as a final product enters the ocean as pollution.
  • Need of the hour is effective national policies and re-thinking production cycles i.e. promoting a circular economy approach.
  • Economic incentives and disincentives are necessary for the adoption of these policies as well as for minimizing resource use.

2. Decline in fish stocks

  • Region’s position as the world’s largest producer of fish has come at the cost of over-exploitation.
  • The percentage of stocks fished at unsustainable levels has increased threefold from 10% in 1974 to 33% in 2015.
  • Generating complete data on fish stocks, fighting illicit fishing activity and conserving marine areas must remain a priority.

3. Connectivity of island nations

  • While the most connected shipping economies are in Asia, the small island developing States of the Pacific experience much lower levels of connectivity.
  • This leaves them relatively isolated from the global economy.
  • Closing the maritime connectivity gap must be placed at the centre of regional transport cooperation efforts.
  • We must also work with the shipping community to navigate toward green shipping. Enforcing sustainable shipping policies is essential.

Areas of cooperation

  • Trans-boundary ocean management and linking ocean data in the region can be the starting step.
  • Harnessing ocean statistics through strong national statistical systems will serve as a compass guiding countries to monitor trends, devise timely responses and clear blind spots.
  • ESCAP by using Ocean Accounts Partnership can help to harmonise ocean data and provide a space for regular dialogue among nations.
  • Translating international agreements and standards into national action is the key here. Also ensuring capacity building among nations to do so.
  • ESCAP is working with member states to implement International Maritime Organization (IMO) requirements.

Consider the question-“What are the challenges facing the nations of Asia-Pacific amid growing levels of pollution and climate change. How cooperation among the countries of the region mitigate the risks? “


Our oceans keep our economy and our lives above the waves. We must use the years ahead to steer our collective fleets toward sustainable oceans.

Back2Basics: ESCAP- United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

  • India has been the founding member of ESCAP.
  • UNESCAP is the regional development arm of the United Nations in Asia and the Pacific, with a membership of 62 Governments, including 58 from the region.
  • Established in 1947 with its headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand.
  • UNESCAP serves as the highest intergovernmental regional platform to promote cooperation among member States for creating a more interconnected region working to achieve inclusive and sustainable economic and social development.
  • It carries out work in the areas of macroeconomic policy, poverty reduction and financing for development; trade and investment; transport; environment and sustainable development; information and communications technology and disaster risk reduction; social development; statistics, sub-regional activities for development; and energy.
  • UNESCAP also focuses on sub-regional activities to provide in-depth technical assistance to address specific key priorities, including poverty reduction and sustainable development, in the respective sub-regions.

IMO- International Maritime Organisation

  • The IMO was established following agreement at a UN conference held in Geneva in 1948.
  • And the IMO came into existence ten years later, meeting for the first time in 1959.
  • As a specialized agency of the United Nations, IMO is the global standard-setting authority for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping.
  • Its main role is to create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is fair and effective, universally adopted and universally implemented.
  • IMO measures cover all aspects of international shipping – including ship design, construction, equipment, manning, operation and disposal – to ensure that this vital sector for remains safe, environmentally sound, energy-efficient and secure.


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