Green focus critical for region, experts say

Yang Han in Kuala Lumpur

Green focus critical for region, experts say

Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change and governments need to put more emphasis on developing a green economy in order to move toward sustainable development.

This was an underlying theme at a China Daily Asia Leadership Roundtable titled Envisioning and Promoting the Green Economy: Towards a Sustainable and Transformative Asia, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Thursday.

“Asia is home to more than half of the world’s population but much less than half of its natural resources. Asia is also the fastest-growing source of new greenhouse gas emissions,” said Alexandra Boakes Tracy, president of Hong Kong-based Hoi Ping Ventures, noting the need for the region to adopt cleaner and more efficient modes of development for lasting economic progress.

She said the transition toward a green economy is clearly on the way, as governments across the world are trying to adopt policies that foster green growth and align economic strategies with a need to respond to problems like climate change and constraints on water and other resources.

The roundtable was held during the Asia Economic and Entrepreneurship Summit, which was organized jointly by Kingsley Strategic Institute and the Pacific Basin Economic Council. The summit brought together government leaders, entrepreneurs, academic researchers and experts from thinks tanks and civil society organizations to discuss and debate the future of Asia in a new era of disruption and trade conflicts.

Tracy said the efforts made by the region are already transforming the financial market and creating huge demand for green technology and sustainable development.

But Asia needs to invest more to tackle climate change, she said, as current spending is still much less than what is needed.

The Asian Development Bank forecasts that Asia, to keep pace with climate change and economic growth, needs to invest US$1.7 trillion a year in infrastructure until 2030, with 16 percent of those funds required for climate adaptation and mitigation measures. Mitigation costs alone will amount to US$200 billion annually.

Asia has significant resources for a sustainable green economy, said R. Puvaneswari, CEO of MYBiomass, a unit of the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology.

Compared with an estimated 423 million tons of biomass available in the United States, Southeast Asia has 230 million tons of biomass, while China has 300 million tons of crop straw wastes and 300 million tons of forestry wastes, said Puvaneswari, noting Asia’s huge potential for developing the sustainable carbon resource that is able to replace petrochemical resources and generate abundant derivative products.

No matter how natural resources, technologies or capital can be used for development, the key is that none of these investments end up creating conflicts among people, but rather unity and social cohesion, said Denison Jayasooria, chairman of the Asian Solidarity Economy Council. He said people should be at the center of green economy.

Citing findings from a report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Jayasooria said the unequal distribution of wealth and resources remains a serious issue in the region. Besides the existence of poverty itself, examples include inefficient use of fuel for cooking.

While companies in Asia need to adapt to green development, innovative technology, social protection measures and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Jayasooria said they also must be human-rights friendly, making sure that their businesses are operating in a sustainable way and adding value to society.

Social enterprises can be game-changers in addressing sustainability globally, said Yasmin Rasyid, program director of Social Entrepreneurship (MasSIVE) at the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC), a government-backed entrepreneur hub. MaGIC now has a public online platform where companies in Malaysia can check if they meet the standard and requirements to be listed online as a social enterprise.

“The Malaysian government has strong faith that changing social entrepreneurship is critical,” Rasyid said. “This is not just about doing good to people, but about making companies adopt a more social and environmentally driven model, and how we can create a future where entrepreneurs are more conscious about what their business is to the society and environment.”

Different countries in Asia have been implementing various measures to promote green finance, such as China’s goal of establishing a green financial system, Malaysia’s Green Technology Master Plan, and Bangladesh’s financial support for environmental and social businesses. But Tracy from Hoi Ping Ventures said the engagement of the private sector and the contribution of millennials, who are willing to put more money into sustainable investment, should be better recognized.

“This will help establish a template which other people can follow, showing to the market that this can work and people can make money from it,” said Tracy, noting there are many financial institutions investing proactively to be greener and launching new products to meet the increasing demand.

Moderator for the session was Mohamed Iqbal Rawther, group deputy chairman of property development company Farlim Group (Malaysia).