Tech­nol­ogy key to green growth

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - News - FE­BRU­ARY 2, 2018 PAVIT RA­MACHAN­DRAN news­room@mm­

IN the past 20 years, rapid eco­nomic growth in the Greater Mekong Subre­gion has re­duced poverty and brought pros­per­ity to many of its 420 mil­lion peo­ple.

Much of the growth has re­lied on nat­u­ral re­sources, which gen­er­ate up to half of to­tal wealth in some sub­re­gional coun­tries. But the “grownow-clean-up-later” ap­proach has wors­ened en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion, due to air, wa­ter, and soil pol­lu­tion, de­for­esta­tion, overuse of nat­u­ral re­sources, and pro­duc­tion of vast amounts of waste.

All six sub­re­gional coun­tries – Cam­bo­dia, Laos, Myan­mar, Thai­land, Viet­nam and China (es­pe­cially Yun­nan prov­ince and the Guangxi Zhuang Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion) – have im­proved their man­age­ment of nat­u­ral re­sources and ecosys­tem ser­vices.

For ex­am­ple, all are shift­ing from us­ing fos­sil fu­els for en­ergy. China is phas­ing out coal plants and gen­er­at­ing far more en­ergy from re­new­able sources such as wind, so­lar, and wa­ter than any other coun­try. Thai­land has the largest so­lar ca­pac­ity in South­east Asia.

In 2006, the Core En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gram (CEP) was launched un­der the Greater Mekong Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion Pro­gram ad­min­is­tered by the Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank (ADB). The CEP has so far in­vested US$50 mil­lion (K66.4 bil­lion) to help the Greater Mekong im­prove en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies and plan­ning, build cli­mate re­silience, and re­duce green­house gas emis­sions from freight trans­port. It has also raised $98 mil­lion for bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion and helped cre­ate 2.6 mil­lion hectares of bio­di­ver­sity cor­ri­dors.

Still, much more needs to be done. We have yet to turn the tide on en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion and pol­lu­tion. A chang­ing cli­mate makes that chal­lenge even harder.

Tech­nol­ogy holds the key. The “fourth in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion,” is al­ready underway. Artificial in­tel­li­gence, big data, ma­chine learn­ing, ro­bot­ics, nan­otech­nol­ogy, and other ex­cit­ing ad­vances are rapidly re­shap­ing economies and com­mu­ni­ties.

Win-win sit­u­a­tion Their emer­gence makes it more im­por­tant than ever that sub­re­gional coun­tries en­sure that their poli­cies not only keep pace with tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments but en­cour­age them.

Tech­nol­ogy can help en­sure that fu­ture growth is “green” – a win­win sit­u­a­tion for the en­vi­ron­ment and the econ­omy. Th­ese tech­nolo­gies are more af­ford­able, and many green poli­cies will even­tu­ally pay for them­selves. They are cleaner and help coun­tries use nat­u­ral re­sources, in­clud­ing land, wa­ter, and en­ergy, more ef­fi­ciently. The re­sult will be more sus­tain­able in­fra­struc­ture, less pol­lu­tion, and bet­ter waste man­age­ment.

For ex­am­ple, re­cent ad­vances have re­duced the price gap be­tween re­new­able and fos­sil fuel-de­rived en­ergy, mak­ing re­new­ables more com­pet­i­tive. Lo­calised re­new­able en­ergy min­i­grids and en­hanced bat­tery ca­pac­ity have proven more ef­fec­tive in de­liv­er­ing elec­tric­ity than large power dis­tri­bu­tion net­works that re­quire large cap­i­tal in­vest­ments and higher main­te­nance costs.

Mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tions can now reach re­mote ar­eas at rel­a­tively low cost, con­nect­ing com­mu­ni­ties with ser­vices and pro­duc­ers with cus­tomers. Many small- and medium-sized en­ter­prises in the Greater Mekong that lacked ac­cess to fi­nance and mar­kets can now trade in re­gional mar­kets and re­ceive elec­tronic pay­ments.

New and emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies are al­ready im­prov­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment. Drones, re­mote sens­ing, and WEBGIS sys­tems are be­ing used to en­sure sus­tain­able fish­ery and forestry prac­tices. In Viet­nam, plans to scale na­tion­ally a WEBGIS plat­form for for­est mon­i­tor­ing will bet­ter pro­tect mil­lions of hectares of im­por­tant for­est ar­eas.

Bet­ter dis­as­ter pre­pared­ness Farm man­age­ment soft­ware is be­ing used in coun­tries such as China and Myan­mar to im­prove pro­duc­tiv­ity through ef­fi­cient use of land and wa­ter. Early warn­ing and sim­u­la­tion data an­a­lyt­ics, based on in­for­ma­tion from satel­lites and drones, is mak­ing com­mu­ni­ties bet­ter pre­pared for dis­as­ter. New bio­engi­neer­ing tech­niques are cli­mate proof­ing in­fra­struc­ture and pro­tect­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties in Viet­nam and else­where.

Waste and pol­lu­tion – byprod­ucts of the Greater Mekong’s rapid­ly­ex­pand­ing cities – can be tack­led by elec­tric ve­hi­cles, fuel-ef­fi­cient tech­nolo­gies, and au­to­mated traf­fic man­age­ment sys­tems, which also help coun­tries achieve their green­house gas re­duc­tion tar­gets. Tech­nolo­gies to trans­form solid waste into us­able en­ergy sources are ad­vanc­ing rapidly and will help clean up the Greater Mekong’s ur­ban cen­tres, re­duce pol­lu­tion, and mit­i­gate cli­mate change.

The chal­lenge fac­ing sub­re­gional coun­tries is how to scale up the emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies that meet their de­vel­op­ment pri­or­i­ties. Pri­vate sec­tor in­volve­ment and fi­nanc­ing will be cru­cial. But gov­ern­ments can pave the way by en­sur­ing their poli­cies and reg­u­la­tions en­cour­age in­no­va­tion and welcome tech­no­log­i­cal change.

Tech­nol­ogy isn’t the only in­gre­di­ent of green growth. More tra­di­tional ap­proaches such as bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal gov­er­nance must also be scaled up and en­hanced.

The tra­di­tional and tech­no­log­i­cal can go hand-in-hand as the Greater Mekong shifts to­ward cleaner, greener growth. The CEP will play an im­por­tant role un­der its new 5-year strat­egy that has pre­pared a pipe­line of en­vi­ron­men­tal projects and pri­ori­tised two re­gional green growth in­vest­ment projects to­talling $540 mil­lion. It is also cre­at­ing a new mar­ket­place for the ex­change of ideas and ex­per­tise on green prac­tices and tech­nol­ogy.

By work­ing to­gether, the Greater Mekong and its de­vel­op­ment part­ners can build even greater pros­per­ity at re­duced cost to the en­vi­ron­ment.


Chil­dren swim in a creek off the Mekong River in Guan­lei,yun­nan prov­ince, China, in 2005. Photo: EPA

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