The First East Asian Environmental Ministers' Meeting in Hanoi brought together representatives from Asia's large industrialized nations and Southeast Asia's developing economies.

"Humankind is facing great challenges on increasingly serious climate change and environmental degradation," said the Vietnamese host, Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai, according to the official English translation of his speech.

The main causes, Hai said, were "the over-consumption of energy, the over-exploitation of natural resources, the extensive desertification as well as the rapid industrialization and urbanization that are out of control.

"Climate change and environmental degradation are posing big consequences at different levels to all countries without exception," he told the conference.

The meeting brought together delegates from East Asian industrial powers China, Japan and South Korea along with India, Australia and New Zealand.

Also represented were the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Other than the host, the only countries represented at the ministerial level were Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia and Myanmar.

The conference was expected to issue a consensus statement on priorities for cooperation in protecting the environment across the diverse region, with an emphasis on promoting environmentally-sustainable cities.

Communist Vietnam, the fast-industrializing host nation, faces a range of environmental challenges, from traffic-choked cities and air and water pollution to wildlife habitat destruction and biodiversity loss.

Sea level rises from global warming would impact Vietnam worse than most countries because of its long coastline and low-lying river deltas, where the major population and food-production centers are located, says the World Bank.

Hai said that natural disasters in Vietnam had killed about 800 people a year for the past decade, as typhoons have battered the coast and brought flooding and landslides to remote mountain regions.

"Vietnam is forecast to be one of the five countries that are most vulnerable to climate change and sea level rises," he said.

Agence France Presse - October 9, 2008