Fostering an All-In Effort To Bring Southeast Asia To A Greener Future

Dr Gerald Hane

This all-industry engagement can be fostered by working in greater concert with both public and private stakeholders focused on improving environmental sustainability.

By Dr. Gerald Hane, General Manager, Corporate Strategy, Hitachi Asia Ltd
Photo: Dr. Gerald Hane. Photo credit: Hitachi Asia Ltd.

The state of climate change in our world today has signaled a ‘code red’ for humanity. A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that our activities are contributing to a more significant rise in global warming than previously projected. This is sounding off an alarm as our world will only face more climate disruptions in the coming decades, or even worse, centuries.

Southeast Asia has emerged as a region that will likely face the brunt of climate change’s long-term effects. Today, the region faces a myriad of environmental issues that have been exacerbated by unchecked growth. The prime issues we now face include deteriorating air quality and rising temperatures that contribute to rising sea levels which, by extension, have raised the risk of flooding in several of the region’s countries.

Climate change is an evergreen issue. While we are all still coming to grips with COVID-19, combating climate change effectively needs to be a priority, and we must continue prioritising ways to mitigate its adverse effects. With the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) recently concluded, we must respond to the rallying call to realise a climate-resilient, global net-zero future that is greener and carbon-neutral. We cannot wait; to ensure that Southeast Asia’s growth can be sustained and enjoyed by future generations, the time to act is now.


The Pressing Environmental Concerns Plaguing Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia has been one of the world’s most thriving and dynamic regions over the past few decades. Despite the hardships posed by the ongoing pandemic, the region is still projected to bounce back to be one of the world’s most economically important zones in the future. However, this growth has come at several costs.

For one, industrial economic sectors such as manufacturing have been a lynchpin of Southeast Asia’s economic rise. However, they have also been significant contributors to the region’s worsening air quality. Thus, stronger efforts must be made to instill cleaner production approaches, namely by proliferating advanced technologies that better optimise resources to make output generation cleaner.

Managing the environmental footprint generated from continued urbanisation is also key. Economic activities, transport emissions, and energy consumption in Southeast Asia’s urban areas leave significant carbon footprints, and this issue will only continue as populations in the region’s economies grow. To balance the growth of cities with climate change management, efforts must be made to use technology in reducing emissions, especially in key areas such as public transport and via the development of greener buildings.

Another prime concern is ensuring the supply of clean water to people. Climate change is increasing the variability of the water cycle, which impacts water availability predictability and water quality, hence impacting access to safe drinking water and sanitation. This problem is especially pertinent in Southeast Asia, as its growing populations and legacy water management systems are threatening the supply of clean water needed to support future growth.  Many emerging markets here are seeing demand outstrip supply. Hence, advanced technologies must be better leveraged to improve the infrastructure for clean water access, especially in innovating approaches towards desalination, sewage treatment and water recycling.

Taking On Shared Responsibility For A Future That Benefits All

In mitigating the adversities of climate change, governments and multilateral organisations have typically shouldered the greatest responsibility. Governments in Southeast Asia have been responding by strengthening climate-related laws and have rolled out the largest regional increase in new climate regulations. However, as the region is already entering a ‘code red’ situation, accelerating cooperation with industry is critically needed.  The private sector has the capacity to use its resources to support holistic climate change mitigation efforts and help put the region on the path towards a net-zero future.

Today, many leading global corporations are helping to lead the fight against climate change. In addition, a growing number of smaller organisations, such as Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) that make up the majority of enterprises in Southeast Asia, are playing a crucial role in sustaining the environment. This all-industry engagement can be fostered by working in greater concert with both public and private stakeholders focused on improving environmental sustainability. While individual actions may have a small impact if done in isolation, combining them will help to nurture a collective effort towards improving environmental sustainability.

Building A Greener Future For Southeast Asia Must Begin Now

The acceleration of global megatrends, such as more widespread digital transformation and continued population growth, will help drive economies in already fast-growing markets such as Southeast Asia. However, this growth cannot be achieved for its own sake; to ensure future generations can benefit from it, it must also be underpinned by environmental sustainability.

On the conclusion of COP26, more stakeholders such as governments, international organisations, businesses, and even people must play a greater role in fighting climate change. But fostering real, holistic change in Southeast Asia’s environment for a brighter and greener future requires an all-in effort.


Featured photo by Yen Le on Unsplash






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