Is Asia up to the global warming challenge?

I am posting some articles here which were hosted by my Australian IPP provider. They were posted before I set up my Word Press site.  This was originally posted back on Thursday 29 July, 2010

The future of Earth’s environment is being determined right now in the urban industrial revolution that is transforming rapidly much of rural Asia into the heartland of the 21st century global economy. “If you are the sort to worry at night about man-induced climate change”, The Economist recently opined, “then book a stay at any of the new high-rise hotels going up on the edge of China’s big cities – start looking for them around the third ring road”. Reflecting on how the design and construction of Asia’s cities will determine just how much global warming greenhouse gases end up in Earth’s atmosphere, The Economist pertinently asked whether Asia could “change its habits before it is too late for all of us” (3 July 2010 p 29).

If humanity is to rise to what former Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, rightly termed “the greatest moral challenge of our generation”, the biggest most significant moves will be taken in the Asia Pacific region where energy consumption over the past decade has jumped by 70%, largely drawn from fossil fuels, and where according to the Asian Development Bank close to a million people a week move from the countryside to cities. What hope is there for significant emissions abatement in a region which each day of the year transforms steel, timber, concrete and asphalt into 20,000 new dwellings and 250 kilometres of new roads? (The Economist, 3 July 2010).

The message is clear. Effective climate policy in the Asia Pacific cannot be detached from managing runaway urbanisation, dematerializing and de-carbonizing double digit economic growth, capping unsustainable levels of population growth, remediating inestimable levels of environmental degradation, and reforming a cultural indifference to governance and market innovation that might diminish prospects for short term economic advantage. Otherwise we all continue on a warming trend which scientists say presents us with “serious, and perhaps even existential, risks” (Steffen, 2010).

Two months ago the US Energy Information Administration made the sobering prediction that without a significant modification of existing national climate strategies, global emissions could grow by 40% by 2035. Most of the increase is slated for the Asia Pacific region and it will happen simply because “increases in output per capita and relatively moderate population growth [will] overwhelm projected improvements in energy intensity and carbon intensity” (Kirkland, 2010).

The implications for the future are enormous. Climate change and the resource impacts it will deliver adds a geo-physical dimension to concerns about future regional and global security – something hinted at by President Barack Obama to a Nobel Peace Prize reception when he said climate change “will fuel more conflict for decades” and that our “common security hangs in the balance” (Obama, 2009) . If there is a security challenge facing the Asia-Pacific, it is the insecurity that comes from the climate change impacts potentially of significantly diminished food and water and a need for massive amounts of additional energy that is neither fossil fuelled nor cheap.

Business as usual for the region means almost certainly more frequently severe droughts and floods, crop failures, photochemical smog fouling the air, rainforest destruction for palm oil biofuels, and a creeping poverty in the services provided by a properly functioning natural environment. In re-conceptualising notions of future regional security, the pivotal relevance of human caused climate change must be front and centre. And yet, there seems only embryonic interest in the Asia Pacific to develop the political, governance, and market frameworks necessary to achieve the significant socio-economic innovation needed for major emissions abatement.

Author: Professor John Cole OAM

Professor Emeritus and founder of the Institute for Resilient Regions at the University of Southern Queensland and Honorary Professor, UQ Business School, The University of Queensland.

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