KUALA LUMPUR: Asia must collectively address the challenges of development, sustainability and conflict if the region is to prosper in the coming decades said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
"We are writting the story of Asia; it may turn out to be the story of the century.
"We have a chance to make it one where all of our citizens are afforded the same rights and opportunities.
“To do this, we must confront three principal challenges," he said when delivering his keynote address at the 27th Asia-Pacific Roundtable on Monday.
Najib singled out climate change as the greatest challenge faced by Asia, which needs to be addressed globally in a united manner.
"In strategic terms, it is a 'threat multiplier': magnifying existing risks, increasing instability and making conflict more likely.
"Unless climate risks are controlled, competition for new resources, territorial change and disruption to trade patterns will the world manifestly unsafe," he added.
Owing to the region's geography, he added that at present, the effects of climate change has already taken a heavy toll on the region's population and economies.
He said that Asia, with its rapid growing economies, is contributing towards climate change and is currently responsible for 17 percent of global carbon emissions while the region would be responsible for 40 percent of the world's energy related greenhouse gases in the next decade.
In this respect, he said that the United Nations is the region's best hope for a global solution toward reduction of carbon emissions and development of low carbon economies.
He noted that there have been recent positive developments towards this with China considering an emission cap and US Obama's administration tackling climate change a priority.
Najib also said that the rise of aggressive nationalism and unchecked arms race were also factors that could threaten decades of peace and progress.
"While defence spending should be proportionate to the threats we face, we must not allow our region to be sucked into an arms race," he said.
He said defence ministers from Indonesia and United Kingdom, at the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore over the weekend warned that Asian defence spending could become a destabilising force resulting in higher risks of conflict.
He added that any disruption due to conflict, would affect the South China Sea which two-thirds of world trade passes, resulting in consequences for the global economy.
"I believe the answer lies in greater co-operation.
"Confronted with complex disagreement between states, Asia must place trust in diplomatic solutions," he said, adding that nations here should heed fundamental principles on which good diplomacy is conducted.
Najib also referred to the Code of Conduct adopted here as a good starting point for ensuring that disagreements does not escalate between nations with regard to the South China Sea.
NajIb also said that the prosperity enoyed by the region must bring opportunity for all with emphasis placed on development of critical social infrastructure.
He added that Asia is home to two thirds of the world's poorest which is also affected by growing gap between the rich and poor and division between rural and urban.
"If we do not give all our citizens a stake in our region's future, we risk encouraging ethnic tensions, religious extremism and political instability," he added.
He said the answer to this lies in Asia working towards building stronger economic connections via platforms such as Asean, Trans-Pacific Partnership and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.