In the face of climate change, is it time to re-examine the way we do development in Asia?
For years, many developing countries have believed it can be only one or the other – economic growth or reducing carbon emissions.
But a new report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says it’s possible for countries in the Asia-Pacific region to do both.
“High human development usually means high emissions, but there are ways to do things differently,” says Anuradha Rajivan, lead author of the report.
Everyone agrees that Asia-Pacific – which accounts for one-third of the world’s greenhouse gases and is home to two-thirds of the world’s poor – needs more economic growth if it is to lift millions of its people out of poverty.
But Asia must also do its part to address climate change, not only by adapting and preparing for extreme weather events, but also by reducing its carbon footprint, experts say.
“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, UNDP’s director for Asia and the Pacific.
“The goal is clear, reduce poverty, increase prosperity, but leave a smaller carbon footprint.”
This isn’t as difficult or as costly as it sounds, say the report’s authors.
Asian countries are much less locked into the old, carbon-intensive models of production and consumption used by the West, which took the approach of 'grow first, clean later' – helping it achieve the high levels of development it enjoys today.
Greater knowledge and improved technology mean Asian countries need not take the same path as they try to boost manufacturing, produce more crops and generate energy to fuel industry and improve their citizens’ quality of life .
They can adopt “greener, more resilient, lower-emission options”, says the report. These will be more sustainable and provide employment and income opportunities for the poor, it adds.
The report comes ahead of the Rio 20 Earth Summit in Brazil next month, which aims to hammer out sustainable development goals across seven core themes – including food security, water and energy – for countries to adopt.
There’s a whole gamut of strategies Asian governments can start looking at – if they aren’t already – to make their development more sustainable and less carbon-intensive.
They can encourage industry to adopt green technologies through regulations and fiscal incentives, without undermining their competitiveness.
They can also shift tax burdens towards fossil fuel use and waste generation, and redirect subsidies away from polluting fuels.
Countries should also look at promoting greener agriculture, the report says. Techniques such as reducing methane in rice production by more efficient water use will help, for example.
Carbon sequestration using crop waste is another example of greener farming. Cambodia, India and the Philippines are using crop residues such as rice husks which are burned with almost no oxygen, producing “biochar” which is then buried to store carbon and improve productivity.
Globally, cities occupy only two per cent of land yet contribute more than two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions.
Given that half of the world’s 20 or so megacities are in Asia, building greener cities is imperative.
Authorities can promote climate-friendly energy use, more efficient transport, greener buildings and better waste management, according to the report.
“There may be some uncomfortable trade-offs, but the way forward is clear – it lies in sustaining human development for the future we want,” it says.
“Through better institutions, more accurate knowledge and changed attitudes, Asia-Pacific societies can find smarter strategies for adapting to a warmer world.”
This article was originally published by Reuters. Republished with permission.