Part 2 – Environmental Sustainability in Asia
 Tianjin eco-city
Asia today is known as the manufacturing powerhouse of the world. From the sweatshops in China, India or Bangladesh many a fancy gadget has seen the light of day after hours under extreme working conditions.
Anyway, another issue of this powerhouse is the enormous contribution these cities have made to the current environmental crisis and our march on the path of climate change.
Originally, the East-Asia 7 economies of Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand led the pile of Asian countries in this sector. We have seen the rise of industrial clusters that speared this engine in cases like the Electronics industry in Malaysia and the Software clusters in Bangalore.
Without doubt the rise of China’s own manufacturing engine over the last couple of decades sparked off competition and changed socio-economic and political dynamics. China’s rise as phenomenal as it is has resulted in it galloping up the list of big contributors to green house gases.
A large factory in China
Added to this huge manufacturing industry of Asian countries is undoubtedly the rapid growth in populations. However, unlike other parts of the developing world like in Africa, Asia’s demographic explosion came with a level of sustained economic growth, which resulted in alleviation of poverty en masse. China’s case of lifting about 500 million people out of poverty between 1981 and 2004 is a feat!!
The role of Asian cities in this drive of economic growth is well noted and even captured in the UN-Habitats State of Asian Cities 2010/2011. Asian cities are home to over half of the world’s urban population. These cities are the gears of the manufacturing engine and contribute immensely to their GDP.
Now, associated with this important role they play these cities come with a price on the environmental front.
Asian cities are among the most polluted on earth. Air pollution in cities like Beijing is at deadly proportions and facemasks are becoming normal on the streets.
In view of this backdrop of environmental concerns in cities, it is not surprising then that environmental sustainability is high on the agenda in most of these countries. Projects for new cities are mostly dubbed as eco-cities bringing to the fore the urgency and the desire to build cities that score high environmentally. From observation of the number of master plans for cities we could say that the agenda in Asia is obviously tuned to scoring more on the environmental sustainability front.
The rise of Eco-cities in China attests to this preoccupation. Cities like Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city have been planned as new developments that will offer environmentally sound neighbourhoods. The Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city due for completion in 2020 is a joint collaboration between Singapore and China. Dongtan is also a new eco-city in Shanghai slated to have started in 2006 the project still hangs. Chengdu Tianfu District Great City is another planned eco city.
Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city Master plan
In Korea Songdo IBD and Gwangyo City Centre are a planned ecocities.
In all, like the cities of Latin America, which adopted social sustainability as a means to achieve greater sustainability, I think Asian cities are gearing up to use environmental sustainability as a means to that same end. This, in my opinion emanates from the context of happenings. As stated above, Asian cities are the engines of growth of their respective nations, concentrating enormous human and financial capital and faced with environmental concerns.
Their success to this end will lead the way in showing how we can achieve sustainable development goals through environmental sustainability as a means. We wish them well.
In the last part of this series we will have a look at the case of African cities and the path they will or should take at achieving sustainable development goals.
Illustration: Tianjin Eco-city
i discuss issues affecting cities around the world with a specific interest on developing countries.