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Too much pollution

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs 17 June 2010

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One cannot read the daily news without coming across the dire reports and photos from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Reflecting on this from my seat in Asia Pacific, it is only natural to reflect on the pollution that is all around me in this part of the world.

The region hosts 66 per cent of the Earth's population and accounts for 28 per cent of world economic activity. It accounts for 26 per cent of global commercial energy consumption and depends significantly on non-commercial energy sources according to a 1997 World Bank report. Economic growth and rising energy consumption are causing increasing air pollution, particularly in many urban areas of the region.

Several years ago it made an impact on me when I noticed that the used water from my kitchen sink did not drain into a sewage or wastewater system but simply fell onto the ground behind my home, detergent and all. Oh, I thought, this is Asia.

With the rush to industrialization on the part of not only India and China with their burgeoning populations but also Asean countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia, Asia has become the starting point for industrial smog that follows the air currents and ends up worldwide.

According to Toshimasa Ohohara, head of air pollution monitoring research at Japan’s National Institute for Environmental Study, emissions of nitrogen oxide—a greenhouse gas that is the primary cause of urban smog—are expected to increase 2.3 times in China and 1.4 times in East Asia by 2020 if China and other nations do nothing to curb them. "A lack of political leadership in East Asia would mean a worldwide worsening of air quality," Ohohara said in an interview.

According to the World Health Organisation, 12 of the 15 cities with the highest levels of particulate matter and 6 of the 15 with the highest levels of sulphur dioxide are in Asia.

Rather than this piece becoming a “gloom and doom” piece, is any progress being made in Asia and Asean on improving the environment.

In Thailand, a court halted the operation of about two dozen plants in the Map Ta Phut industrial complex in eastern Rayong. The court agreed with a complaint brought by residents that environmental regulations in the law had been ignored when the plants began operation. The Thai government is now scrambling to develop new regulations and procedures to allow the plants to resume operations.

And, most of the taxis in Bangkok have kicked the gasoline habit and use LPG for fuel, as Thailand has a lot of that fuel.

China signed the Kyoto Protocol of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1998 and ratified the Protocol in 2002, something that the US failed to do.

More importantly, it made emissions reduction a national policy in 2005, when the nation's 11th Five-Year Plan (for 2006 to 2010) set a target of reducing energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product by 20 percent.

There is really no conclusion to this article.

Cleaning up the environment, while still maintaining economic productivity is a major unfolding story in Asean and Asian countries that we will be following, especially with Save Our Planet initiative.


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