At the recent World Economic Forum on East Asia in Vietnam, Deutsche Welle brought together governments and the corporate sector to debate the prospects of green growth in Asia.
China is the world's largest CO2 emitter
Polluted air, a lack of drinking water and overcrowded cities: It is well known that rapid economic growth has brought massive environmental challenges to the Asian continent. Frans Muller, a board member of Germany's Metro group, admitted that these are serious problems, but he also pointed out that growing economies have an edge when it comes to being innovative.
Klaus Schwab speaks at the World Economic Forum on East Asia
"I think Asia has not only a challenge, but also in this respect an enormous chance," Muller said. "What you see is that more and more international companies establish their R&D centers in Asia, particularly China, Korea and Japan; and that a lot of technologies that are now a strength of Asia, are linked to green technologies. Interfaces are possible: There are a lot of opportunities between the IT sector in Asia, which is very strong, and green technologies. So there are a lot of opportunities that the green challenge will also bring green technology growth to industries in Asia."
Governments lead the way
In order to tap this potential, the role of governments is crucial. Many Asian governments such as China and South Korea have made green growth a policy priority. South Korea's Deputy Environment Minister Yoon Jong-Soo explained what his administration has been doing to mobilize the citizens.
The Chinese continue to rely heavily on highly polluting coal...
He gave three examples: "One is the Green Start Movement. It is a nationwide campaign: We have to adopt a green lifestyle. The second is the carbon point system: When households reduce carbon emissions and save energy, they get rewards in the form of cash or coupons. The third is a 'carbon labeling' system. It provides information how much carbon dioxide has been emitted in the course of production, transportation and disposal of goods. Incentives are very important, rather than regulations."
Oil subsidies prevent innovation
But Stuart Dean, who heads General Electric in the ASEAN region, cautioned that other policies in Asia hinder growth in the green sectors.
...but they also have become leading producers in solar technology
"I think one of the areas that really need to be addressed early on is the area of subsidies for fossil fuels. At least half of the countries in Asia still have subsidies for fossil fuel, which then affect the pricing of electricity. We recognize that there are socio-economic groups that benefit from those subsidies; but I think it is also clear there are better ways to do income redistribution than subsidizing everyone's use of fossil fuels."
Dean said Europe became a leader in alternative energies only because high taxes made oil products expensive. Both industry and government representatives agreed that there is enormous potential for public-private partnerships in the realm of green growth. With the right leadership, Asia's booming economies might soon become known as the "green tigers".
Author: Thomas Baerthlein
Editor: Disha Uppal