Impact Asia: Green dominance Will Asia save the planet?

When the Rena container ship foundered off the Bay of Plenty coast last month one of my colleagues told me he felt violated as New Zealander. The globs of oil washing up on Motiti Island, Papamoa and Mt Maunganui beaches struck raw nerves of concern for our fragile environment.
They also tapped into groundswell of angst about the validity of New Zealand’s clean green claims. Such concerns have been bubbling away for some time now.
Two years ago when NZTE published its ‘clean economy vision for NZ in 2025’, it noted that our pre-established ‘pure’ reputation rapidly needed authenticating to avoid reputation risk.
Just seven weeks before the Rena hit Astrolabe Reef, and 12-hour plane flight from New Zealand’s shores, delegates from round the world had gathered in Seoul to examine the emergence of an independent and very pragmatic Asian sphere of influence in international environmental regulation and trade in renewable technologies.
The Harvard Project on Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) in the Republic of Korea posited that Asia is carving out for itself leadership role in such matters.
Yet while west and east may increasingly share common lexicon of concern for the environment, many people suggest the underlying drivers are very different.
Here’s small, but telling, example. When NZTE did study of Tesco’s buying decisions on its home turf in Europe, sustainable practices ranked way high. NZTE GM strategy Grant McPherson says in that part of the world, green demands translate into basic business-as-usual prerequisites. Not so in Tesco China where the same survey showed sustainability as mere blip on the chart.
McPherson suggests that in Europe consumers demand smarter green practices while in Asia, by and large, it’s the governments that are driving the push for cleaner environment.
Here in New Zealand, group of independent business leaders has become so concerned about our country’s future role in more green-conscious world that in July this year they launched the Pure Advantage campaign.
They aim to address what they see as the growing gap between our nation’s clean green marketing and what they call its “very different reality”.
Pure Advantage campaign manager Duncan Stewart says environmental debate in Asia is not framed by global warming and climate change.
“It’s driven by the need to reduce pollution and environmental degradation, as both are significant drags on GDP growth,” he says. “Equally as important for many, it’s driven by the desire for energy security.”
For some time, many Asian governments have pursued the line that they’ll lift their economies first before sorting out their environmental problems.
Now in many parts of Asia this approach is morphing into policies that clearly harness environmental improvement to simultaneous economic growth.
At recent Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Hanoi, Vietnam, senior Asian and European officials, drawn from ASEM’s 46 member countries, the European Commission and the ASEAN Secretariat, met to work out ways to shift from ‘grow first, clean up later’ approach toward greener development path.
Over in Korea, Han Seung-soo, chair of the international Global Green Growth Institute, has described “green growth” as new revolutionary development paradigm that sustains economic growth while at the same time ensuring climatic and environmental sustainability.
In his foreword to the book Green Growth in Motion: Sharing Korea’s experience, he says green growth “focuses on addressing the root causes of these challenges while ensuring the creation of the necessary channels for resource distribution and access to basic commodities for the impoverished.
“Under this new paradigm, new ideas, transformational innovations and state-of-the art technology will become the major drivers of growth.”
Grant Frear, consulting partner and head of innovation at Deloitte NZ, identifies three converging trends that are helping drive governments to rethink their policies.
First, he says, the growing role and importance of social media globally (think Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement) make the old “do it dirty, get rich quick and clean up later” increasingly difficult. Social media equates to greater transparency.
Second, there’s simply greater awareness of green issues.
Finally, we’ve reached some tipping points in science that are opening up new possibilities. The merging of green technologies and IT, for example, has led to the ability to create smart cities, smart grids, smart meters and smart appliances. Connected devices and connected information allow us to monitor use of power, for example, and rethink how we use resources.
A short walk from the New Zealand Embassy in Seoul, Young Soogil points out of his office window to the presidential ‘Blue House’ in the distance.
As chairman of the Presidential Committee on Green Growth he reports direct to Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak on the country’s national agenda to promote low-carbon green growth.
Young jokes that his office is close enough for his boss to see if he’s working or not.
The Republic of Korea is seen by many as prime exemplar of country whose government is determined to get to grips with green growth. All of which adds certain irony to claims by sources back in New Zealand that Korea’s overtures to Kiwis to form ‘dream team’ combo have largely fallen on deaf ears.
These people say we’ve allowed to slip through our fingers dream opportunity to link our innovative thinking and national green brand with Korea’s formidable industrial capacity, access to capital and market research capabilities.
Just round the corner from Young Soogil’s office, families with young children traipse through the Experience Green Growth Hall. Hydrogen fuel-cell cars, model of the Jeju city smart grid, and polar bear on bicycle sheet home the government’s key message that green growth will eco-ise their homes, offices, transport and cities.
The green growth policy that Young Soogil is bedding down is Korea’s national strategy to become the world’s seventh ranking green power by 2020 and its fifth by 2050.
No-one’s pretending there’s anything but long way to go. Korea has been ranked as the ninth largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world and first among OECD member nations for its rate of emissions.
Still, says Young, investment in green, high-efficiency technologies is booming.
Total investment in renewables and new energy innovation – such as fuel cells and smart grids – has increased by 75 percent annually over the past three years.
“The number of businesses focusing on those areas had doubled in the same period,” he says.
“Employment in those sectors has more than quadrupled. And total domestic sales and exports in those areas have increased by six or seven times.”
The solar cells market provides good example of the wider Asian region’s growing sphere of influence in clean energy. In the past decade, China has shot from standing start to now producing nearly half of total global supply.
Such stats prompt suggestions that China’s “green” leadership position may currently rest more on its ability to manufacture solutions to environmental concerns rather than on any inclination to rally and lead debate on environmental issues.
Perhaps one day, pragmatism and idealism may merge. Young Soogil cites one prominent market observer who wrote that sooner or later China will be ahead of the US in terms of contributing to global climate change negotiations.
“Why would China do that? Because China believes it’s in its own interest to do so,” he says.
For further evidence of Asian pragmatism, look no further than nuclear energy. In sharp contrast to the world nuclear slowdown since Japan’s Fukushima disaster in March this year, both India and China continue to boost their nuclear power capacity.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says both countries expect to have 60,000 megawatts of capacity a

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