(EnergyAsia, May 23 2012, Wednesday) — Asia Pacific countries have reached a crossroad where they must strike a balance between rising prosperity and focusing on cleaner, sustainable and more equitable growth, said the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

The region’s response to these issues and its success or failure at dealing with the new challenges will have long-term global repercussions worldwide, predicts the agency in a new report.

Growing first and cleaning up later is no longer an option even if the region needs an expanding economy to combat poverty, said the Asia-Pacific Human Development Report 2012 – One Planet to Share: Sustaining Human Progress in a Changing Climate. The publication is aimed at reinvigorating climate change dialogue by bringing people’s concerns into the fore in the lead-up to the Rio+20 conference next month.

“The world’s common future will be hugely affected by the choices that are made in the Asia Pacific on a low carbon growth path,” said Ajay Chhibber, UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

“The goal is clear: reduce poverty, increase prosperity but leave a smaller carbon footprint.”

What happens in this region, home to more than half the world’s population and half of the planet’s megacities, can make a global difference.

The report said: “Countries of the developing Asia-Pacific are much less locked into the old, carbon-intensive ways of production and consumption. Asia-Pacific not only has the imperative, it also has the opportunity to manage development differently.”

The report argues that in the face of climate change, countries in the region “will need to change the way they manufacture goods, raise crops and livestock, and generate energy.”

This will mean moving to greener, more resilient, lower-emission options that not only sustain the environment but also offer opportunities to the poor for employment and income.

“The report said that now is the time for the Asia-Pacific countries to act while they are experiencing a fast pace of economic growth.

There are some positive indications: China is committed to lower its carbon intensity of GDP by 40-45% by 2020 compared to the 2005 level. India is also committed to reduce emissions intensity of GDP by 20-255 by 2020 compared to the 2005 level while Indonesia said it will cut emissions by 26% by 2020.

Time to change production

Economic growth in the region is primarily dependent on fossil fuel energy. An overwhelming share of the region’s total greenhouse gas emissions comes from energy generation and industrial production, along with agriculture.

The region has emerged as a global workshop for manufacturing to meet consumers’ needs elsewhere.  Countries of developing Asia-Pacific burn more than 80% of the world’s coal directly used by industry. Approximately 85% of the region’s primary energy comes from fossil fuels in the form of coal, natural gas and oil.

Asian countries account for 37% of world emissions from agricultural production, including through growing crops and raising livestock, land use changes and deforestation. The principal greenhouse gas emissions are nitrous oxide from fertilisers, methane from livestock and rice production and CO2 released when soils are ploughed.

Countries across the region are charting ways of moving to lower-carbon production while dealing with the tough challenge of addressing poverty and managing emissions too.

Fair and balanced consumption

The Asia-Pacific region has a vast but unequal consumer market. Some people consume too little: In 17 countries, 10% or more of the population subsists on inadequate diets. The region is home to nearly 900 million of the world’s poor living in extreme poverty (on US$1.25 dollars or less a day).

It is also a region of contrasts where there are more than 2.5 billion mobile phone subscriptions, yet half its population, or almost 1.9 billion people, lacks basic services such as access to flush toilets.

The UNDP report has warned that fulfilling the urgent needs of those in extreme poverty, combined with the higher purchasing power of the region’s new consumers, will increase the demand for food, water, energy, housing and consumer goods. These factors will put even greater pressure on natural resources and will require more balanced consumption patterns that are less energy and resource intensive, especially among the rich and the growing middle classes.

“The important principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognises the historical differences in the contributions of developed and developing countries to the earth’s environmental problems, as well as the differences in their capacities to respond effectively,” said the report.

Building greener cities

Of the world’s top 20 megacities – those with populations of 10 million or more – half are located in Asia. The region has some of the world’s fastest growing cities, which must deal with both the causes and consequences of climate change.

Urban areas generate large quantities of greenhouse gas emissions, mainly through energy consumption and local transport. Globally, cities occupy only two percent of land and yet contribute more than two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions.

Cities are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, in part because they concentrate people and infrastructure along low elevation areas, such as rivers and coasts. The most vulnerable are the urban poor, who occupy marginal areas exposed to climate and environmental hazards.

Yet cities are also centres of finance, politics, dynamism and innovation, which should help them develop in more carbon-efficient ways, and find new and smarter strategies for adapting to a warmer world.

The report urges city governments to encourage climate-friendly energy use, more efficient transport, greener buildings and better waste management.

Raising rural resilience

In the Asia Pacific, nearly 700 million people in rural areas live in extreme poverty and are exposed to a wide range of climate change impacts, from flash floods in mountain areas, to sea-level rises in river delta regions and the Pacific islands.

Rural communities receive relatively little support in terms of funds or services. For example they find it difficult to market goods if they do not have all-weather roads and often do not have reliable and accurate knowledge on climate related issues. The report urges more investment in information and low-cost technologies, such as mobile updates that keep farmers current on weather forecasts and disaster warnings, farm prices and other information that affects their daily lives in a changing environment.