Last week, a group of around 30 made a transect from West to East across Sumatra, Indonesia, to learn about forests, trees, landscapes, and the people whose livelihoods depend on them. We were often shocked by what we saw. After camping overnight in Tesso Nilo National Park, Riau province, we lumbered slowly on the backs of elephants through tracts of newly logged and burned forest land, some planted with rubber, and learned that over half the park area of 83,000 hectares was encroached and deforested. Tesso Nilo has the highest biodiversity index for vascular plants in the world, and is the last remaining habitat in Riau for elephants and the Sumatran tiger. With their habitat shrinking, elephants often stray into surrounding villages, causing significant economic damage. Villagers retaliate by poisoning the elephants. With support from the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Indonesia, an elephant ‘flying patrol’ has been established within the park, staffed by skilled mahouts who have trained six elephants to help chase wild elephants away from villages and back to the park, thereby reducing conflict with the local population.
East Asia and Pacific
We raised glasses and cheered to the future success of Mr. Minh’s company. I had just visited his manufacturing facility where his company ASAMLED produces light-emitting diode (LED) lights for a variety of applications. A 40 person start-up and the only LED lighting company to manufacture over 90% of the final product locally, ASAMLED had the makings of Vietnamese clean tech success story. But as the day rolled on, we began discussing the real challenges the company and industry face. Starting an energy efficiency business in a country where energy is cheap and Chinese importers (who he called ‘screw-driver innovators’) are plenty, is not easy.
He told me how ASAMLED was conducting market tests with dragonfruit farmers. Using LEDs at night, dragonfruit production could jump from four harvests a year to nine – good news for the Vietnamese farmers who supply 40% of the fruit’s market in Europe. But he explained research like this was expensive and difficult to do with limited resources. According to him, the World Bank-run Climate Innovation Center could help him advocate his technology, inform consumers and access funding to market test a host of new LED applications.
Henry Ford once famously said that if he had asked his customers what they wanted they would have asked him for a faster horse. If he had listened to his customers, the Ford Motor Company may never have existed, or would be called the Ford Faster Horse Company. The automobile became what is called a “disruptive innovation” meaning that it radically displaced the incumbent technology (the horse and carriage) by not listening to the demands of mainstream consumers, but trying to uncover their real needs.
This is the approach the World Bank is now prototyping in Indonesia: Trying to uncover the real clean energy needs of rural communities by understanding their underlying energy-related problems rather than simply asking them what technologies they want. The Indonesia Green Innovation Pilot Program is prototyping a new approach to fostering green disruptive innovation. The first stage of the program is being launched this week, and consists of identifying possible challenges – or problems – linked to energy in rural communities. In keeping with the logic of disruptive innovation, the program does not start with a market demand study, or a survey of clean energy solutions in the market, but with uncovering stated and unstated needs that affect the population of a rural community in their everyday lives. This is being done in three ways: One is through field research by a team of designers from Inotek and Catapult Design, a second way is through consultative workshops in Jakarta and in the rural communities, and a third is through a “call for challenge” where the program is using a crowdsourcing approach to collect problems linked to energy in rural Indonesian communities. If you are in any way familiar with rural Indonesia and its energy challenges, the program invites you to submit a challenge through this website.
In the corridors of COP 16 in Cancun last December, `blue carbon’ was being discussed in the context of Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+). The notion that wetlands and near-shore marine habitats constitute significant but largely unaccounted for natural sinks of atmospheric CO2 was just beginning to surface. Since then, there has been a surge in interest in Coastal Carbon Sinks, as evidence begins to mount on their ability to suck up CO2 and store it in their biomass and in deep sub-surface soil layers. A recently published study in Nature GeoScience cites evidence from field measurements that mangroves in Indonesia can actually store carbon at four times the rate of their terrestrial forest counterparts.
In contrast to terrestrial forests, mangroves and other wetlands store most of the carbon below ground, in a rich organic soil layer, which can run several meters deep. When this soil layer is disturbed—as happens when wetlands are drained or converted for other land use—huge amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere in the form of CO2, and centuries or millennia of accumulated carbon can be emitted over the course of a few decades.
The extent of these emissions in estuaries and deltas, is highlighted in a detailed World Bank technical report. The preliminary findings of the report were summarized for decision-makers in a brief issued last December at the COP 16. The technical report, Mitigating Climate Change through Restoration and Management of Coastal Wetlands and Near-shore Marine Ecosystems: Challenges and Opportunities, is available on line and is being launched today in Indonesia at a Workshop on Tropical Wetland Ecosystems of Indonesia,in Bali.
East Asia has shown us how economies can grow at a pace unparalleled in human history. What made it happen? Key ingredients included high savings rates and a willingness to invest them for the long term in people and infrastructure, leaders who kept their eyes on the long-term transformation of the economy, and a lot of serious attention to how investors respond to incentives.
But aren’t these some of the same ingredients we’ll need to make growth green?
This was one of the topics we discussed this week at the first Annual Conference on East Asian Development in Singapore organized by the Bank’s East Asia Pacific region and Singapore’s Institute for Policy Studies. This brought together senior policymakers and academics from throughout the region. Is it possible that the Region that brought us growth, could also be the leader in making that growth green?
But first, just how green has East Asia’s growth been so far? To over-simplify, the region has made pretty good progress in reducing the environmental damage per unit of output, but this hasn’t been able to keep up with the astonishing growth of the output. So, real GDP is up by near 400% since 1990, while energy use is up by 150%, sulfur dioxide emissions up by about 60%, and carbon dioxide up by nearly 200%.
This is a lot better than it might have been – but the environment is still getting worse at a serious rate. And this says nothing about water stress, loss of biodiversity and a host of other issues. (On a positive note, particulate emissions are down by 50%, and lead in fuel has almost disappeared).
Does East Asia need to lower its growth to ensure that the environment doesn’t deteriorate further? No, but it will require the same degree of commitment and long term focus that inspired the strong growth in the first place – but this time by internalizing environmental costs.
| Photo courtesy Willem V.
Strien/Flickr under Creative
It is all too easy to see environmental protection and economic development simply as competing philosophies, and nothing more. A range of studies attest to the fact that this is a false dichotomy. In my earlier blog, I described the alternative vision that became a reality in a small Nicaraguan coastal community that chose to invest in a diverse set of clean energy alternatives. Even with cases like this one described in the literature, there remains in some circles a sense that these must be concocted.
The headlines often reinforce this simple dichotomy of environment versus economic growth, where the choice presented is “preserve a forest and forego the lumber”, “save a river and deny a community hydropower”, or “find the financing for more expensive solar power or accept ill-health and global warming from coal.” I have been convinced that another path or paths exist, ever since reading a remarkable paper on the `valuation’ of a tropical rain forest (Peters, Gentry and Mendelsohn, `Valuation of an Amazonian Rainforest', Nature). This short paper got me thinking about how we ignore the longer-term economic wins of sustainability for short-term profit.
I recently had the wonderful fortune to get involved in a case that reinforced the fact that options always exist, if we work together to find them.
Early in 2010, a consortium of citizens from Sabah, Malaysia came to my laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, convinced that unexplored options must exist to provide the energy needed for this Malaysian Province without placing a 300 MW coal fired power plant on the edge of the ‘coral triangle’ off the coast of North Borneo. This plant was planned at a site only 20 kilometers from the last remaining reserve for the critically endangered Sumatran Rhino of Borneo (of which there may be only 30 individuals or so remaining). This plan would have required the weekly import of coal from South Borneo (Kalimantan). Just a few years ago, the coal plant seemed inevitable.
We all know that the quality of the air we breathe has an immense impact on the health of the people and the economies of developing countries. Poor air quality can also threaten the economic competiveness of cities. Increasingly global companies consciously chose to locate in livable cities. We’re already seeing that in Asia. A 2006 survey by the Hong Kong’s Chambers of Commerce showed that worsening air quality was beginning to affect investment decisions of corporations.
I spent two days last week at the Suntec Center in Singapore attending the Better Air Quality conference. This year’s theme was Air Quality in a Changing Climate. The link between the two – improved air quality and reducing climate change is sometimes not so apparent and I am glad the conference was making the link clearer. Climate change impacts all countries but the World Development Report 2010 estimates that some 75-80 percent of the damages caused by a changing climate will be borne by developing countries. If we are to limit global warming to about 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level, we will all need to invest massively in energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, and more efficient transportation.
Combating air pollution is one area where it is possible to capture important co-benefits with respect to climate change. By taking specific measures, we can simultaneously achieve local health and welfare benefits (including related to air quality) while also reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While it is important to strive for a global deal on climate change, there are a number of things that cities can do in the interim to simultaneously reduce local environmental impacts and reduce carbon emissions. And by demonstrating on the ground some things that can work in this regard, cities can position themselves to access any global carbon financing that might become available as part of a global deal.
In less than 10 years, firms in China, India and South Korea progressed from no wind turbine manufacturing experience to state-of-the-art wind turbine systems. Consider this: Goldwind from China installed 2,727 MW in 2009, a 140% increase on 2008 that saw its international market share rise to 7.2%. The Indian company Suzlon owns 9% of the global market share. What policies led to such robust domestic wind power development?
Last month, the International Finance Corporation's (IFC's) Cleantech Investment Program hosted Dr. Joanna Lewis, a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, to share research on the strategies used by wind power technology companies in China, India and South Korea to develop wind turbine technology. Lewis is working on a paper that details case studies of the current industry leaders in these three countries, including Suzlon (India), Goldwind (China), and Hyundai, Doosan and Daewoo (South Korea).
The author, Sophie Bathurst of Australia, won first place in an international youth essay competition sponsored by the World Bank and other partners. She answered the question "How can you tackle climate change through youth-led solutions?” The awards were announced in Seoul in June, 2009.
|Photo © Sophie Bathurst|
My vision for Australia is that of a nation where healthy people live in a healthy environment. I believe that Australia's future social and economic prosperity as well as the livelihoods of our Pacific Island neighbours depend on our response to the climate challenge. An effective response demands the engagement of all sectors of society and involves both responsible adaptation to existing environmental problems as well as the mitigation of further climate change.
If we ignore the warnings, we will not only damage our precious ecosystems and lose our water resources but will also have to contend with disruption of services; decline in key industries such as agriculture, tourism and fisheries; and increased health problems for society’s most vulnerable, particularly the elderly and remote indigenous communities.
If we think long-term and embrace the challenge, however, climate change can present an opportunity for youth. It can contribute to the establishment of an energy sector based on renewable and clean fuels, the development of world-class research centres and the implementation of globally recognised education programs in sustainability.
Education lies at the core of an initiative that I proposed recently. I envision a series of new projects for primary schools that will be led by a 'Green Taskforce' composed mainly of unemployed youth. The projects are designed to build confidence and to equip young people with some of the skills required for permanent employment in environmental trades. At the same time, these projects will create a culture of ecological awareness and healthy living within primary schools and teach students to reduce their carbon footprint.