Entrepreneurial Asia is full of green start-ups and ambitious climate change targets | Instant News

OPINION: This is a sign that the draft Climate Change Commission report offers a welcome respite from the Covid-19 update when it was released last month.

This report was soon followed by another very interesting report from Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton, who proposed ways to make New Zealand’s tourism industry more sustainable. Both are worth reading.

It seems that environmental issues are one of the few topics that can raise Covid-19 from the headlines.

For those who ignore current issues during the holiday season, the commission report is a detailed blueprint for reducing New Zealand’s carbon footprint. All New Zealanders have to make some changes, including here at the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

* ‘The government will not hold back’: Jacinda Ardern on how NZ can achieve zero carbon
* Japan will ban the sale of combustion cars by 2035
* NZ judges ‘not enough’ for climate action, once again

Of course, New Zealand is not the only country looking to decarbonize its economy and make the best of what can only be described as a dire situation.

Smoke and steam rose from a coal processing plant in Hejin in central China's Shanxi Province.

Sam McNeil / AP

Smoke and steam rose from a coal processing plant in Hejin in central China’s Shanxi Province.

In fact, when one looks at the progress being made in parts of Asia, you can argue that New Zealand has slowed down a bit. If we don’t, we can fall behind.

Asian countries, particularly in South and Southeast Asia, have an interest in slowing down the worst impacts of climate change. Long coastlines and lowland coastal cities make many countries in the region one of the most vulnerable in the world to extreme weather and rising sea levels.

A 2019 study by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found parts of Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City could be underwater by 2050, and millions of people around the Mekong Delta could be forced to leave their homes. Shanghai and Mumbai, China’s and India’s economic heavyweights, are each vulnerable to sea level rise.

So it’s no surprise that many Asian countries have set some ambitious targets on climate change, some using the Covid-19 stimulus package to do so. Action from government, business and civil society has increased rapidly.

Simon Draper says that many New Zealanders still think of Asia as it was 20 or 30 years ago, but that view is getting narrower.


Simon Draper says that many New Zealanders still think of Asia as it was 20 or 30 years ago, but that view is getting narrower.

South Korea announced a ‘new eco-friendly deal’ late last year and has pledged to make the country – which is heavily dependent on coal for energy – carbon neutral by 2050. Japan is also trying to achieve net zero by 2050. Pakistan has declared ‘green’ the stimulus package, which aims to create 200,000 jobs focused on forest development and protection.

China targets net zero emissions by 2060, and thanks to a history of government subsidies and disincentives on gasoline cars, more than half of the world’s electric cars are owned by people in China.

I’m often surprised by how many New Zealanders still think of Asia as it was 20 or 30 years ago – holidays, food and cheap goods. There is, however, an increasingly narrow view of Asia, which is now the center of innovation, technology and change.

I encourage New Zealanders to start updating their understanding of Asia, and its role in tackling climate change. Those who are already doing business in Asia (and that includes local and national governments) or with plans to do so need to understand both environmental issues in the Asian context, and how everything from technology trends to government regulations are changing as a result.

For example, the days of our plastics being Asia’s problem are numbered. China has gradually banned imports of various types of waste since 2018 and New Zealand is one country that continues to struggle to figure out what to do with recycling it.

Southeast Asia already takes more than half of our recycled waste for processing, but it’s becoming more and more full, and the pandemic has shown how easy it is to disrupt that system.

The days of our plastics becoming Asia's problem are numbered, said Draper.

Dominico Zapata / Goods

The days of our plastics becoming Asia’s problem are numbered, said Draper.

The car we drive is another example. The Climate Change Commission report puts a lot of hope on the electrification of New Zealand’s transport fleet. While we are considering and consulting on the right regulatory mechanisms to make this happen, China has set a 2035 deadline for fossil-fueled cars, and Singapore has promised a ban by 2040.

Entrepreneurial Asia is also bustling with green startups that are about to make it big: there are saltwater powered lamps in the Philippines, renewable energy grids in Singapore, and urban agricultural companies in Thailand that grow spirulina on city rooftops.

New Zealand’s growing reputation in Asia is a producer of high quality, healthy and safe products; how we treat our environment is part of it. Brand reputation can easily be lost, and needs to be continuously invested.

In tackling climate change, there are also many opportunities to strengthen New Zealand’s ties, for shared learning and new connections in the start-up and knowledge sector.

Climate change, plastic pollution, sustainable tourism and other environmental issues are perfect illustrations of how interconnected we are to Asia. Our economic systems as well as our ecosystems are at risk if we fail to understand this.

Simon Draper is the executive director of the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

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