Statistics is only one part of the story. The grime combined with apathetic governments and poverty in certain parts of Asia and the craze to rapidly industrialise makes for an epic by itself. Environment mostly figures way down the list of official priorities in most Asian countries. The message has always been "grow now, clean up later".
The grey continent
If there is one single factor which binds most Asian cities together, it is pollution. According to Emerging Asia: Changes and Challenges , an Asian Development Bank publication and Toward an Environmental Strategy for Asia , a World Bank discussion paper, environmental sacrilege across Asia is widespread and the region has to contend with many damaging epithets to its credit, significant among them being: it is the world's most polluted and environmentally degraded region; 10 of Asia's 11 mega cities exceed World Health Organization's (who) guidelines on particulate matter by a factor of at least three, four exceed acceptable lead levels and three exceed acceptable ozone and sulphur dioxide (SO2) levels. Further, out of 15 dirty cities in the world, according to a study conducted by the WHO and the United Nations Development Programme (undp) as far back as 1987, 13 belonged to Asia itself.
Statistics is only one part of the story. The grime combined with apathetic governments and poverty in certain parts of Asia and the craze to rapidly industrialise makes for an epic by itself. Environment mostly figures way down the list of official priorities in most Asian countries. The message has always been "grow now, clean up later". Little was it realised that the absence of a 'go green' policy could result in a region torpedoed by ecological nightmares. And wherever environmental regulations were set up, they were ineffectively designed and inadequately implemented. Asia simply lacks the institutional capacity to implement its environmental policies, if any .
asia's race to become more industrial and economically privileged has had its fall outs. The picture is none too pretty: more population, more poverty, more air, water and noise pollution, continuing resource depletion, less ecological diversity, all plague the continent. Some areas have localised problems like the danger of rising sea levels could pose for Pacific islands.
air pollution : Rapid industrial growth has given to Asian cities this legacy of air pollution which could slowly become the singlemost disabling factor for its multitudes. According to Emerging Asia: Changes and Challenges , an Asian Development Bank ( adb ) publication, the air in Asia's cities is among the dirtiest in the world.The levels of ambient particulates - smoke particles and dust, which are a major cause of respiratory diseases - are generally twice the world average and more than five times as high as in industrial countries and Latin America. Throughout Asia, lead emissions from vehicles are also well above safe levels. Ambient levels of sulphur dioxide (SO2) - an important pollutant that traverses across national borders and contributes to acid rain, which in turn damages crops and eats away at synthetic structures - are 50 per cent higher in Asia than in either Africa or Latin America. These levels are, however, still only one-third of the levels prevalent in industrialised countries.
The Asian region has also shown a higher global energy consumption compared to the rest of the world. Whereas the global energy consumption between 1990 and 1993 fell by one per cent, in Asia, the consumption rose by 6.3 per cent. Asian reliance on coal, especially by India and China, and oil has resulted in higher carbon emissions. In fact, CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions are growing four times as fast as the world average. With industries consuming more than 40 per cent of the energy in Bangladesh, India, China, South Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam, it is clear that industries must use energy efficient technologies to reduce air pollution.
Industrial pollution lets loose a wide range of pollutants which include - SOx (sulphur oxides), NOx (nitrous oxides), total suspended particulates ( tsp ), co (carbon monoxide) apart from CO2 and hydrocarbons like methane. According to a World Bank ( wb ) discussion paper by Carter Brandon and Ramesh Ramankutty, Toward an Environmental Strategy for Asia , approximately 59 per cent of particulates and 39 per cent of SO2 is emitted by industries in Beijing. In Bangkok, the industry emits about 21 per cent of tsp. Apart from these mega cities, there are a much larger number of smaller cities with even more severe air pollution problems, mainly because they were developed as industrial centres due to their proximity to raw materials and fuel sources. Shenyang and Taiyuan in China, Illigan City in the Philippines and the Singrauli region of India are prominent examples.
Such toxic releases can play havoc with the health of the people. The industrial disaster in Bhopal in 1984 is a terrifying example. Yet another threat is occupational hazards. Workers continuously exposed to a polluted environment have experienced a higher incidence of health problems ( See box : Poison in Thailand ).
The industrial sector in Asia has shown an amazing increase in output in recent years. An expanding industrial sector affects the pollution load in two basic ways. The first is to increase the total volume of pollutants in the short and medium terms. The second is to change the pollution intensity of industrial output (the amount of pollution generated per unit of output). In Asia, both the growth and the intensity effects are leading toward heavier pollution loads in the short and medium terms. As there is no comprehensive data on either pollution loads or pollution intensities, the World Bank has developed the Industrial Pollution Projection System ( ipps ) to gauge the trends in industrial pollution in Asia. The ipps uses pollution coefficients from the us manufacturing concerns for 1988 and applies them to industrial output in Asia.
As there is no data on Asia, the ipps has used coefficients developed by US economists which correlate economic growth with production of some 320 toxic pollutants. This can be used to calculate how industrial output increases pollution. However, the accuracy of this method depends upon how closely the technology used in Asia resembles that in the us in 1988. This model can, however, be looked at in two different ways. It is possible that as industries in Asia are less regulated than in usa , pollution loads could be higher. Also, considering that technology used in Asia is newer and more efficient than in usa , the result could be less pollution.
The ipps trends for Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand are shown for the years 1975 to 1988 ( see graph: Pollution trends ). The six pollutants shown are two indicators each for water pollution (biological oxygen demand ( bod) and suspended solids), air pollution (SOx particulates) and toxic wastes (a composite index of various toxins emitted into the air or water or in solid wastes and heavy metals). Between 1975-88, these three countries had broad-based increases in pollution intensity across all forms of pollution, including 10-fold increases in Thailand, eight-fold increases in the Philippines and four-fold increases in Indonesia. However, an even more important conclusion of the ipps analysis is that the intensity, or unit volume of toxic releases per unit of output is also increasing dramatically in Asia - particularly in East Asia ( See table: Growing toxicity). In comparison, the toxic indicator in Japan fell by two-thirds between the late 1960s and 1987. The relative Gross Domestic Product ( gdp ) rates showed that it increased 2.48 times in Thailand between 1975 and 1988, 1.45 times in the Philippines and 2.16 times in Indonesia respec-tively ( Source: World Bank, World Data, 1990-95 ). This shows that depending on the nature of industrialisation, a doubling of gdp can lead to as much as 10 times increase in the pollution load.
Industrial production over the years has resulted in greater intensity of toxins
|COUNTRY||YEAR COVERED||GROWTH FACTOR|
myriad problems that confront the region include burgeoning population figures, poverty, economic development, weak official infrastructure. The relationship between population and environment is a close one. It is believed that rising populations could lay an extra stress on the natural resources. However, it is not the increase in population that destroys the environment, but rather the behaviour of the populace towards the latter. For example, some countries like Taiwan and South Korea have ensured that population pressures do not result in resource degradation. This they did through a combination of sustainable growth in agricultural producti-vity and job creation outside agriculture. But countries like India and the Philippines were slow to react and favoured capital-intensive industry. Surplus labour was unable to shift to alternative employment from agriculture and environmental damage rose to great proportions.
Again, slower rates of population growth has not necessarily contributed towards less environmental degradation. Sri Lanka and Thailand, which have registered decreasing population rates, have also shown a similar high rate of environmental degradation. In case of population growth and land degeneration, it is not necessary that higher population figures erode the land base. As the adb publication states, Japan and usa are both examples of countries where increasing population density has been accompanied by improved land conditions. It is increasing population figures combined with poverty that could create more damage to the environment.
As for water shortages, Indonesia with one of the world's highest freshwater endowments per person, faces water shortage. China, India and Pakistan face severe water shortages that have more to do with water subsidies than population growth. The World Resources 1987 report published by the usa-based World Resources Institute states that if Pakistan's irrigation system increased its efficiency by 10 per cent, the water saved could irrigate another two mha. But as long as Pakistan's farmers do not have to bear the true cost of water, they are unlikely to appreciate its scarcity and are likely to waste it.
Poverty has almost become synonymous with Asia. Nearly one billion people in Asia live below the poverty line and consi-dering that their first priority is to survive, environmental protection does not mean much to them. Natural resources like fuelwood, fodder or fish and water are all accessible to them. Invariably, the poor tend to live in areas more prone to environmental-disasters such as flooding and landslides or near polluting factories and hazardous dump sites. Environmental degradation reinforces poverty, which in turn reinforces environmental degradation and the vicious circle continues. Like population growth, poverty seems to exacerbate environmental problems in the presence of market and policy failures.
Do higher income levels imply a worse environment? This question has sparked off several research studies and a relationship known as the 'environmental Kuznets curve' has been arrived at, which in an inverted u -shaped pattern shows that as the country gets richer, its environ-ment will get worse before it gets better ( See graph: For better or worse ).
As economic development accelerates, agriculture becomes more intensive, resource extraction increases and industrialisation takes off; thus the rates of natural resource depletion begin to increase and the quantity and toxicity of wastes begin to rise. Eventually as economies become richer still, their economic structure shifts toward industries and services that use natural resources less intensively. Greater prosperity brings with it increased environmental awareness and a willingness and capacity to pay for a cleaner environment. As a result, countries enforce environmental regulations more strictly and spend more money on the environment. Subsequently, environmental degradation levels off and gradu-ally declines.
This relationship seems to apply to both urban and rural environments. While the environmental Kuznets curve has been criticised by many scholars, it is indeed true that cities like Bangkok, Seoul and Shanghai are far more polluted than they were 20 to 30 years ago, and their pollution levels are rising at rates that match or exceed their rates of economic growth. Conversely, cities in the industrial countries are cleaner today than they were 20 or 30 years ago.The Kuznets curve for Asia suggests that with increasing economic development, the environment will take a beating before bouncing back to good form and that during the next 20 to 30 years, environmental quality will improve slowly in East Asia and in the higher-income countries of Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia, and will continue to deteriorate in South Asia and the lower-income countries of Southeast Asia.
In Asia, certain types of pollution tend to rise more rapidly with higher income, but they also tend to fall more quickly. Higher initial population density together with more rapid industrialisation may account for the rapid rise, while increased environmental awareness and the availability of new abatement technology permit pollution to be reduced at relatively lower income levels.
But should economic growth always result in worsening environment or can the Kuznets curve be flattened? All it seems to take, according to adb, is effective policy decisions to ensure that economic growth can be harmonised with the surrounding environment.
partial estimates of the economic costs of environmental degradation, selected economics and years
|ECONOMY||FORM OF ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE||YEAR||ANNUAL COST ($ MILLION)||COST AS A PERCENTAGE OF GROSS NATIONAL PRODUCT|
|China||Productivity losses caused by soil erosion, deforestation, and degradation; water storage, and destruction of wetlands||1990||13,900-26,600||3.8-7.3|
|Health and productivity losses caused by environmental pollution in cities||1990||6,300-9,300||1.7-2.5|
|General environmental degradation and pollution||1989||31,000||8.5|
|Indonesia||Health effects of particulates and lead above WHO standards in Jakarta||1989||2,164||2.0|
|Pakistan||Health impact of air and water pollution and productivity losses from deforestation and soil erosion||Early 1990s||1,706||3.3|
|Philippines||Health and productivity losses from water and air pollution in vincity of Manila||Early 1990s||335-410||0.8-1.0|
|Thailand||Health effects of particulates and lead above WHO standards||1989||1,602||2.0|
Null and void
the overall quality of life of the nation suffers considerably when environmental rot sets in. This could either be in the form of economic or non-economic costs. Estimates of the economic costs of environmental degradation in Asia range from one to nine per cent of a country's Gross National Product ( See table: Exorbitant costs ). Effects on people's health -- from exposure to air and water pollutants and to heavy metals -- constitute the largest share of all environmental damage in terms of welfare loss. In Jakarta, for instance, particulates are a leading cause of premature death and lead emissions result in a significant loss of cognitive capacity among children. Estimates of damage from these two pollutants alone amount to as much as us $2.2 billion if both economic and welfare losses are added together.
As adb pointed out, water misallocation also incurs high costs. the overemphasis on agricultural irrigation results in water shortages for domestic and industrial use. The inadequate provision of water and sanitation services similarly comes at a huge price. As for putting an environmental infrastructure in place, in Asia, it is considered more of a luxury which contributes to health and quality of life but little to economic growth.
Conventional project appraisal underestimates the benefits that accrue from investment in environmental infrastructure, such as water supply and sanitation systems, wastewater treatment plants and pollution abatement technologies, according to adb . A policy paper of wb released in 1992, titled Water Resources Management , on the health benefits that result from water provision and sanitation reveals that adequate clean water and sanitation could prevent half of the deaths from diarrhoea, around three million people a year world-wide. Another survey discussed in D Canning's background paper, Productive and Environmental Infrastructure in Emerging Asian Economies , for the adb publication, found that a 20 per cent increase in clean water supply or sanitation could raise life expectancy significantly. The close link between environmental infrastructure, life expectancy and economic growth suggests that environmental investment should become a priority even in poor countries.
Natural resource depletion has also occurred substantially in Asia. The world's two largest tropical timber exporters, Indonesia and Malaysia, are in Asia, as are several oil producers, including Brunei, Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia; many Asian countries are significant producers of coal and non-fuel minerals and all Asian coastal states have substantial fish stocks. In most Asian countries non-renewable resources are being rapidly extracted and renewable resources are being harvested more quickly than they can be replaced. As the adb publication questions: can Asia sustain its development if it is running down its stocks of both non-renewable and renewable resources?
Asia has the lowest land area under protection as nature reserves when measured on a per person basis. Insufficient control of protected areas has resulted in their gradual erosion. The quality of national parks and other protected areas, and hence the revenues derived from them, are being compromised for several reasons: inadequate protection, low-quality services, and underpriced admission. For example, protecting and improving Thailand's Khao Yai National Park would cost between us $7-14 million a year, but it could generate us $35 million a year from higher entrance fees. The management of such parks can be privatised with environmental and social concerns adequately safeguarded through regulation, environmental performance bonds or bank guarantees.
A better option
environmental negligence is cos-t-ing the Asians dearly. But as adb states, the potential to reverse the downward trend exists. Asian policymakers need to adopt a different environmental policy, one that will sustain and stretch the resources further. Though regulation should be the keyword, a more flexible approach and implementation policy combined with more reliance on economic instruments should be put into action.
For instance, a flexible antipollution approach would use economic instruments to substitute for or complement regulatory standards. This, according to adb , would allow the industry a much freer hand in setting its own means of compliance based on the cost of pollution to the polluting entity.If there is sufficient institutional capacity to implement industry-specific programmes, some governments may also provide information and other incentives to encourage the adoption of clean technologies.
Different pollution minimising options should also be provided to polluters. For instance, if a factory can choose between changing its product processes, inputs, or pollution abatement efforts; relocating; or paying charges for polluting rather than being forced to stick to a single technology or emissions standard, it will choose the cheapest option.
The cost benefits of a flexible form of pollution control are stupendous. A study calculated the difference between the price of China's existing combination of discharge permits and fines on excess emissions (a command-and-control system) with the cost of a full emission charge system (a market-based instrument). Based on a sample of 260 enterprises in Beijing and Tianjin with multiple water pollution sources, it was found that an emission charge that would achieve the current abatement rate for each pollutant would reduce abatement costs from $47 million to $13 million per year, a saving of $34 million from this group of enterprises alone, or a 70 per cent reduction from the cost of the command-and-control system.
A comparison of the proposed command-and-control-based antipollution investment program in China and India with the least-cost alternatives also demonstrates the inefficiency of Asia's current policies. The command-and-control approach consists of investments required in the power sector from 1992 to 2000 to achieve a certain percentage reduction in emissions of major pollutants. The least-cost policy consists of selecting least-cost technologies using a model that minimises costs. The cost of the command-and-control approach is 10 times higher than the least-cost alternative for China and three times higher for India. The saving is greatest in the case of particulates, Asia's most serious and widespread air pollution problem. Even if a more efficient regulatory system meant that only two-thirds of the current cost of environmental protection could be saved, the effect would be equivalent to tripling environmental expenditures under the existing system. By improving efficiency, a more flexible and effective regulatory regime can also enhance a country's competitiveness.
Asian policymakers will have to slowly bring about emission charges, tradeable permits and other economic instruments. To be effective, the more sophisticated instruments require effective monitoring and enforcement whereas many simpler economic instruments such as product charges and deposit refund systems do not, because they are incorporated into the product price. Several Asian countries have begun to introduce market-based instruments for environmental management on an experimental basis.
Charges and permits for effluents require effective monitoring. In Malaysia, the introduction of charges on palm oil effluent in the late '70s was remarkably successful. Despite a 50 per cent increase in the number of palm oil mills between 1978 and 1982, the extent of water pollution as measured by the bod levels fell from 222 tonnes of effluent per day in 1978 to only five tonnes in 1984. These changes did not result in a loss of competitiveness for the palm oil industry or reduced production.
Asian communities need to phase out subsidies which have only proved costly to the environment. Globally, the annual costs of subsidies detrimental to the environment (including water, energy and pesticide subsidies ) exceed us $500 billion. Asia currently accounts for about a third of this estimate.Asian environmental policy must be characterised by a strong but limited governmental role, by effective management, by an efficient pricing policy, by secure property rights and by a prominent role for the private sector and civil society.
The state of environment in Asia in say, the next 30 years will, therefore, depend on Asia's own policy choices. As adb forecasts, in the coming 30 years, Asia will become more industrialised but the sector will be dominated by light rather than heavy industries. Its population is also likely to increase by 50 per cent to reach almost five billion by the year 2025. With only 24 per cent of its population currently living in cities, Asia is the world's least urbanised region; however, at the current rate of urban population growth, by 2020, adb predicts that half of Asia's population will be living in cities.
Like other developing countries, Asian countries too face the possibility that stringent environmental standards will not only make their products non-competitive, but will also be used as non-tariff barriers.
Environment-related funding needs for the Asian and Pacific region, selected years 1991-2025 (1990 $ million)
|FIELD||1991||1995||2000||2005||2010||2015||2020||2025||AVERAGE GROWTH RATIO PER YEAR (PER CENT)|
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