Maintaining GDP growth while reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the Asia-Pacific region

A report submitted to Prof. Masaaki Ohba on 12 May 2010 some PhD Student at Tokyo Polytechnic University, Atsugi, Kanagawa, Japan ;-)


It has been a recent global concern that excessive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are causing the so-called Global Warming phenomenon, which means an increase in average global temperatures by 1.1 to 6.4 degrees Celsius in this century [IPCC, 2007].

The largest geographic region affected is the Asia-Pacific region, which is comprised of countries that surround the Pacific Ocean, mostly in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Australia and Oceania, and in broader terms, also South Asia (being part of Asia and directly adjacent to East and Southeast Asian countries) and partly the Americas. This then includes Japan, the United States, the Philippines, China, and India. China and India alone roughly account for 1/3 of the world’s population.

Meanwhile, many of the countries in this region and even more concentrated in the South and Southeast Asian sub-regions, are still considered developing countries, and GDP growth is very important. Likewise it is also important for developed countries like China, Japan, and the US to maintain or improve GDP growth to sustain their current economic situations.

Currently many of the solutions to reducing GHG emissions entail costs that could not otherwise be afforded or prioritized by Asia-Pacific countries because these could have a negative impact on their GDP growth. The US is one of the major Asia-Pacific countries that has not agreed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which is an international effort aimed at addressing global warming. [UNFCCC, 2009]

This report looks briefly into these two aspects together in the Asia-Pacific context:
1. Reducing GHG emissions
2. Maintaining or improving GDP growth

Item #2 is viewed more specifically in the context of the solutions listed in Item #1. As a background to Item #1, the significant sources of GHG emissions are discussed first.

Significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions

In general, modern human activities contribute to GHG emissions, namely fossil fuel burning and deforestation [IPCC, 2007]. And it is more so now than before because of the use of high technology (e.g. machines such as cars, planes, industrial machines, and so on) and the increase in population which currently necessitates use of such high technology to increase quality of life.

Five main sectors of economy are considered in this report, namely:
1. Food,
2. Energy,
3. Transport,
4. Industrial (non-food), and
5. Building.

Food sector

It is said that the raising of cattle, swine, and other domestic animals to be used as meat products later on is considered to result in a lot of GHGs. With an increase in population over time particularly in most parts of the Asia-Pacific which are non-vegetarian, there is also a corresponding increase in demand for such meat products. [Motavelli, 2002]

Energy sector

It is a known fact that the level of GHG emissions in the energy sector depend on the type of power generating plant. Traditional power plants such as coal-fired power plants and other similar plants that use fossil fuels are the most significant contributors. [Elliott et al, 1997]

Transport sector

It is likewise a known fact that currently most transportation vehicles, including cars, buses, ships, and airplanes all use fossil fuels. Airplane travels are the biggest source of GHG emissions per kilometre in the transport sector, costing 10 times more CO2 emissions than travel by train when compared for the same route. [Paul Watkiss Associates, 2009]

Industrial sector

The manufacture of many different types of goods, from home necessities like soap to large industrial equipment, entails the consumption of energy and production of waste, that in turn result in GHG emissions. [Young et al, 1997]

Building sector

The construction of various infrastructure including buildings and other structures, from the mining or quarrying of metal, concrete, and other materials, to the actual task of construction, as well as the use of such infrastructure that is outfitted with electricity-consuming lighting, HVAC, and water systems all result in GHG emissions. Likewise, buildings take up space on the Earth’s surface that could otherwise have been the locations of GHG-absorbing plants, and so instead add to concentrated locations of temperature increases particular in urban areas. Of the five sectors mentioned, building construction and use is thought to be the most significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, e.g. around 72 percent of US electricity consumption. [EPA, 2009]

Known ways in reducing greenhouse gas emissions

In general, there are three things that can be done: geoengineering (e.g. reducing GHGs in the atmosphere), mitigation (e.g. reducing GHG emission itself), and adaptation (e.g. accepting the consequences of effects, or modifying current behaviours). Adaptation though might have potentially large economic costs. [Wikipedia, 2010]

Perhaps more so in the past decade, there have been numerous efforts in technical fields as well as in the socio-eco-political fields to come up with possible solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The author believes that the key is innovation.

Technical innovations

In the food sector, innovations on using vegetables and vegetable products to taste like meat products have cropped up. An example is Good Burgers in the Philippines. [Bagamasbad, 2009]

In the energy sector, nuclear power plants have resurfaced and unlike before, are now thought to be one of most efficient types and the safest for the environment. In the US, 20% of their power comes from nuclear energy. “Renewable” energy is now also a big word in the energy sector, where non-fossil-fuel, natural sources such as geothermal, hydro, and wind power are harvested to generate electricity. [Elliot et al, 1997] In the Philippines, geothermal and hydro power plants are proliferating.

Geoengineering practices such as carbon capture and storage are also under-development. [Wikipedia, 2010]

In general, “green” machines – including appliances, cars, and other equipment – have been developed; i.e. hybrid and electric cars, more energy efficient refrigeration and HVAC systems, and so on, although the fact remains that many old, inefficient “machines” are still being used. Airplanes are still costly, CO2 emissions-wise.

Socio-eco-political solutions

Obviously, legislation plays a big role in the push to reduce GHG emissions. One such example is the Kyoto Protocol, an international effort. [UNFCCC, 2009] In countries like Japan, steps such as encouraging the use of LED lighting by subsidy or tax discounts. [Huang, 2009] The Australian government has introduced a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. [Cole, 2007]

In general legislation can affect GHG emissions in two ways: by taxation (e.g. penalties for continued or more use of fossil fuels, area protection to prevent or minimize deforestation) or incentives (for not using fossil fuels).

Another social effort, in terms of adaptation, is the promotion of responsible eco-tourism, such as the efforts by WWF in the Philippines. [WWF, 2010]

Conclusion: on maintaining or even improving GDP growth

The author believes that reduction of GHGs in the atmosphere by reducing the current volume, or by reducing emissions is very important that it should be a priority concern of all nations. Once it is widely accepted, people will be persistent in innovation to come up with solutions that provide a balance with economic growth. It is when people stop coming up with solutions – i.e. when citing reasons such as “it is difficult to implement,” or “all other countries should do the same before we will,” and so on – that GHG emissions will indeed stay as a hindrance to economic growth. With prioritization of addressing climate change, education and information dissemination is the very first and foremost very important action, and then legislation next. In the end, businesses could shift from the current trends (i.e. “digital revolution”) to new businesses that promote both environmental and economic growth. The author believes that the key points to maintaining or improving GDP growth as well as reducing GHG emissions, in order, are: awareness, paradigm shift, and innovation.


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