Countries in Asia and the Pacific are at a crossroads and must now strike a balance between rising prosperity and rising emissions. Their success or failure will have repercussions worldwide, predicts a new report released today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The Asia-Pacific region must continue to grow economically to lift millions out of poverty, but it must also respond to climate change to survive. Growing first and cleaning up later is no longer an option, says the Asia-Pacific Human Development Report 2012 – One Planet to Share: Sustaining Human Progress in a Changing Climate. The publication is aimed at reinvigorating climate change dialogue by bringing people’s concerns into the fore in the lead-up to the Rio+20 conference.
“The world's common future will be hugely affected by the choices that are made in Asia and the Pacific on a low carbon growth path,” says Ajay Chhibber, UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. “The goal is clear: reduce poverty, increase prosperity but leave a smaller carbon footprint,” he added.
What happens in this region —which is home to more than half the world’s population and half of the planet’s megacities— can make a global difference. The report says that “countries of the developing Asia-Pacific are much less locked into the old, carbon-intensive ways of production and consumption. Asia-Pacific not only has the imperative, it also has the opportunity to manage development differently.”
The report argues that in the face of climate change, countries in Asia and the Pacific “will need to change the way they manufacture goods, raise crops and livestock, and generate energy.” This will mean “moving to greener, more resilient, lower-emission options that not only sustain the environment but also offer opportunities to the poor for employment and income.”
“This is the time for the Asia-Pacific countries to act while they are experiencing a fast pace of economic growth,’’ says the report. There are some positive indications. China, for example is committed to lower its carbon intensity of GDP by 40-45 percent by 2020 compared to the 2005 level. India is also committed to reduce emissions intensity of GDP by 20-25 percent by 2020 compared to the 2005 level. Indonesia has committed to cutting emissions by 26 percent by 2020.
Time to change production
Economic growth in the region is primarily dependent on fossil fuel energy. An overwhelming share of the region’s total greenhouse gas emissions comes from energy generation and industrial production, along with agriculture. The region has emerged as a global workshop for manufacturing to meet consumers’ needs elsewhere. Countries of developing Asia-Pacific burn more than 80 percent of the world’s coal directly used by industry. Approximately 85 percent of the region’s primary energy comes from fossil fuels in the form of coal, natural gas and oil.
Asian countries account for 37 percent of world emissions from agricultural production, including through growing crops and raising livestock, land use changes and deforestation. The principal greenhouse gas emissions are nitrous oxide from fertilizers, methane from livestock and rice production and CO2 released when soils are ploughed.
Countries across the region are charting ways of moving to lower-carbon production while dealing with the tough challenge of addressing poverty and managing emissions too.
Fair and balanced consumption
Asia-Pacific has a vast but unequal consumer market. Some people consume too little – in 17 countries, 10 percent or more of the population subsists on inadequate diets. The region is home to nearly 900 million of the world’s poor living in extreme poverty (on $1.25 dollars or less a day).
It is also a region of contrasts where there are more than 2.5 billion mobile phone subscriptions, yet half its population, or almost 1.9 billion people, lacks basic services such as access to flush toilets.
The report warns that fulfilling the urgent needs of those in extreme poverty, combined with the higher purchasing power of the region’s new consumers, will increase the demand for food, water, energy, housing and consumer goods. These factors will put even greater pressure on natural resources and will require more balanced consumption patterns that are less energy and resource intensive, especially among the rich and the growing middle classes.
“The important principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognises the historical differences in the contributions of developed and developing countries to the earth’s environmental problems, as well as the differences in their capacities to respond effectively,” says the report.
Building greener cities
Of the world’s top 20 megacities – those with populations of 10 million or more – half are located in Asia. The region has some of the world’s fastest growing cities, which must deal with both the causes and consequences of climate change. Urban areas generate large quantities of greenhouse gas emissions, mainly through energy consumption and local transport. Globally, cities occupy only two percent of land and yet contribute more than two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions.
At the same time, cities are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, in part because they concentrate people and infrastructure along low elevation areas, such as rivers and coasts. The most vulnerable are the urban poor, who occupy marginal areas exposed to climate and environmental hazards.
Yet “cities are also centres of finance, politics, dynamism and innovation, which should help them develop in more carbon-efficient ways, and find new and smarter strategies for adapting to a warmer world.” The report urges city governments to encourage climate-friendly energy use, more efficient transport, greener buildings and better waste management.
Raising rural resilience
In Asia and the Pacific, nearly 700 million people in rural areas live in extreme poverty and are exposed to a wide range of climate change impacts — from flash floods in mountain areas, to sea-level rises in river delta regions and the Pacific islands.
Rural communities receive relatively little support in terms of funds or services. For example they find it difficult to market goods if they do not have all-weather roads and often do not have reliable and accurate knowledge on climate related issues. The report urges more investment in information and low-cost technologies, such as mobile updates that keep farmers current on weather forecasts and disaster warnings, farm prices and other information that affects their daily lives in a changing environment.
The report also calls for particular attention to the needs and concerns of women in rural areas as they are still more dependent on agriculture than men, who have shifted in larger proportions to non-farm jobs. Women are less likely, for example, to be reached by agricultural extension services.
Here is a snapshot of recommendations for a lower-carbon climate resilient path for Asia-Pacific:
Encourage the transition to green technologies. Through a combination of regulations and fiscal incentives, governments can lead the way, encouraging and supporting the private sector and individuals to switch to green technologies without undermining competitiveness or causing overall revenue and job losses. Shift the tax burden towards fossil fuel use and waste generation, and redirect subsidies away from fossil fuels and other environmentally damaging options. China has set targets in its 12th five year plan aimed at improving industrial energy efficiency and lowering emissions. One such target aims at cutting CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 17 percent by 2015 compared to 2010.
Reduce industrial emissions. Legislate for low-carbon growth through incentives and regulations for reuse and recycling in industrial production. Provide technology and finance support to “green” small businesses in order to discourage production and export of high-emission goods. Develop national and international standards for better counting and accounting of emissions from production to consumption within and across borders.
Promote greener agriculture. Reduce methane in rice production by more efficient use of water. Combine “zero-tillage” cultivations with residue management and improved fertilizer use. Support carbon sequestering with options like “biochar”. In Cambodia, India and the Philippines, some crop residues such as rice husks are burned with almost no oxygen, producing “biochar” which is then buried to sequester carbon and improve productivity.
Support cleaner energy generation. Accelerate the development and use of renewable resources. Install photovoltaic technology in homes. Malaysia has created stronger financial incentives in renewable energy and set a target to achieve 5.5 percent of total electricity generation capacity as renewable energy generation by 2015. India, Pakistan, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand have introduced feed-in tariffs to encourage private investment in renewable energy.
Improve prospects of the rural and urban poor. Provide access to modern energy services such as electricity and cleaner cooking fuels that are affordable and reliable, focusing on deprived households. Countries should protect the rural and urban poor’s fragile livelihoods in the wake of climate disasters, such as extreme flooding. In Hanoi, administrators are strengthening dykes for better flood control and in Bangladesh farmers adapt to floods by growing vegetables in floating gardens.
Expand sources of finance. Harness all potential sources of finance — domestic and international, public and private. Legislate domestic fiscal policy such as carbon taxes and levies to encourage more efficient uses of energy. Leverage public funds to catalyze private resources -- internationally, more than 90 percent of climate change finance is sourced from private markets. Complement global and regional emissions trading initiatives by exploring sub-national market-based mechanisms of carbon pricing. In Tokyo, Asia-Pacific’s first city cap-and-trade initiative addresses urban emissions.
Strengthen climate knowledge for citizen awareness. Promote accurate information dissemination – keeping citizens informed will be important in changing attitudes. Help consumers to make greener and safer choices by product labeling that includes energy efficiency and waste reduction. In the Republic of Korea, CooL Label (Low CO2) appears on 220 products including furniture, rice and electronics. New Delhi’s environment department has been engaging youth by establishing educational ‘eco-clubs’, and in Indonesia, faith-based organizations are including disaster management and environmental conservation principles in their teachings.
Boost transboundary cooperation. Work together across political boundaries to share experiences and effective approaches in addressing common climate change challenges. For example, countries in the Hindu-Kush Mountains share information on mountain-specific climate issues with countries in the European Alpine region.