GLOBE-Net, August 23, 2012 - Asia must act
now to pave the way for green, resource-friendly cities or face a
bleak and environmentally degraded future. That was the key
conclusion of a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) report released
But amid the alarming details of the growing environmental
crisis in Asia's expanding mega-cities, there were signs of hope
"Asia has seen unprecedented urban population growth but this
has been accompanied by immense stress on the environment," said
Changyong Rhee, ADB's Chief Economist. "The challenge now is to put
in place policies which will reverse that trend and facilitate the
development of green technology and green urbanization."
In a special chapter of its flagship annual statistical
publication, Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific
2012, ADB examined the challenges and opportunities
associated with the region's breakneck urban boom. It also details
measures needed to turn cities into environmentally sustainable,
inclusive growth centers.
Since the 1980s, Asia has been urbanizing at a faster rate than
anywhere else, with the region already home to almost half of all
the world's city dwellers. In just over a decade, it will have 21
of 37 megacities worldwide, and over the next 30 years another 1.1
billion people are expected to join Asia's already swollen urban
This breakneck expansion has been accompanied by a sharp rise in
pollution, slums, and widening economic and social inequalities
which are causing rapid environmental degradation.
Particularly disturbing are urban carbon dioxide emissions,
which if left unchecked under a business-as-usual scenario, could
reach 10.2 metric tons per capita by 2050, a level which would have
disastrous consequences for both Asia and the rest of the
Rising urban populations mean that over 400 million people in
Asians cities may be at risk of coastal flooding and roughly 350
million at risk of inland flooding by 2025. Unless managed
properly, these trends could lead to widespread environmental
degradation and declining standards of living.
Natural disasters, especially floods, are common in
Asia. Severe downpours in the Philippines killed at least 59
people and displaced some 300,000. Last month, Beijing
suffered its heaviest rains in 60 years, causing widespread
chaos. Floods in Thailand last year killed 529 people and
disrupted millions of lives.
"We shouldn't think those incidents are the result of just bad
luck," said Changyong Rhee. "In our report, the main message
is that this kind of natural disaster, especially flooding in Asia,
is a result of the combination of a growing risk of global warming
and climate change, together with rapid and massive urbanisation in
Asia without infrastructure," he said.
Signs of Hope
The report notes that there is hope. The growth of cities can
have many advantages, including critical masses of people in
relatively small areas, making it easier and more cost effective to
supply essential services like piped water and sanitation. Rising
education levels, factories leaving cities, the growth of middle
classes and declining birth rates typically associated with
urbanization also have a broadly beneficial impact on resource use
and the environment.
Conservation and efficiency improvements will help. Many
countries have begun diversifying their energy sources to include
renewables and have been investing in energy-efficient buildings
and sustainable transport systems. Imposing congestion and emission
charges, as in Singapore, and removing inefficient fuel subsidies,
as in Indonesia, can make prices more fully reflect social
But the report says much more is needed, including the
development and mainstreaming of new green technologies. Early
examples are waste-to-energy conversion plants, as in the
Philippines and Thailand, or "smart" electric grids.
For urbanization to be not only green but inclusive, policy
makers need to promote climate resilient cities, in order to
prevent disasters like the 2011 Bangkok floods, and improve urban
slum areas, the report points out.
Urbanization in Asia is Different
Asia's urbanization is different from what has preceded it
notes the report, in both speed and scale, and it is
generating and confronting unprecedented challenges.
Urbanization also generates forces that can help to address
these challenges if properly managed. Asia's future depends
on using best practices and policy innovations to
promote green urbanization, thereby ensuring a better life for
its urban residents, and the world.
The Asia Development Bank report is available here.
Read more about Sustainable Cities in