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As our economy grows, so do our ecological problems.

Late last year, a report published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) revealed that Asia Pacific's dynamic growth of the past few decades has decreased poverty and increased wealth and per capita incomes. However, that has come at a large environmental price.

“The breathtaking economic growth (in Asia Pacific) has lifted more than half a billion people out of poverty, but with profound social and environmental consequences,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.

The repercussions are all too familiar to us: pollution, GHG emissions, biodiversity loss, deteriorating ecosystems, etc. A report prepared by the UNEP revealed that energy use in the Asia Pacific has grown since 1970 at a compounding annual growth rate of 3.9 %; in the rest of the world the growth rate was 1.4%. UNEP also revealed that from 1970 to 2005, consumption of coal by Asia-Pacific countries has also increased more than threefold.  

Asia Pacific Energy Summit 2012

These glaring figures were considered alongside the topics discussed in the three-day Asia-Pacific Energy Summit 2012 held in March this year.

The annual Pacific Energy Summit provides an interactive platform for ongoing collaboration and dialogue on the topics of energy security and climate change, and aims to forge lasting partnerships that address these challenges. This year, the Energy Summit gathered key stakeholders from around the world in Vietnam to discuss market and policy solutions; the interactive forum saw representatives exchanged ideas on how to sustainably meet Asia’s electricity needs and support Asia’s economic growth.

Topics ranged from energy structure, creating efficient and flexible energy market, advantages of regional cooperation and new technology potentials, as well as solutions to deal with challenges due to rising demands for energy and climate change.

It was highlighted in the conference that Asia is facing with challenges due to the increasing demand on energy for economic growth. Regional countries are required to quickly refurbish the energy system and switch to the consumption of new sources of energy and renewable energy. They also have to expand the power distribution network and consumption to rural and remote areas – this is targeted at maintaining high economic growth for sustainable development while reducing poverty and protecting the environment. On a governmental scale, countries are advised to create an environment to encourage more investment in developing the new sources of energy and in applying technologies to production of clean energy and efficient power saving.

Heating up

The increase in demand for energy is disconcerting – an overwhelming body of scientific evidence shows human activity is causing global warming. Estimates on the World GHG Emissions Flow Chart (revealed by the World Resources Institute) show that the main global contributors to GHG emissions are: energy consumption (fossil fuels release 25.6 Gigatonnes or 61% of global emissions), deforestation (18%), and agriculture releases from soils and livestock (14%).

Currently the Earth’s atmosphere contains a GHG concentration of about 425 parts per million (ppm), and it has recently been increasing by over 2 ppm each year, according to the Stern Report. Many GHG remain in the atmosphere for more than a century and their effects on our climate are delayed.

This global increase of the Earth’s temperature, or climate change, is one of the biggest threats to humankind, according to The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In response to this serious issue governments and businesses around the globe are setting targets to reduce GHG emissions.

What needs to be done?

To prevent global temperatures from increasing more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, many scientists suggest that atmospheric CO2 concentrations should not exceed 450ppm. This requires global emissions to peak in the next decade and decline to roughly 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050 (Baer and Mastrandrea, 2006). Such dramatic emissions reductions call for a sharp move away from fossil fuels, considerable improvements in energy efficiency and significant reorganisation of our current economic system. 

What organisations can do

Companies can find more ways to not only reduce the consumption of energy, but also in boosting its energy efficiency. Organisations with negligent processes and inadequate management systems tend to not only see their funds depleting unnecessarily, but also inevitably contributing to environmental problems. Adopting energy management systems such as the ISO 50001 can be a big step in helping organisations achieve an improvement in energy performance.

Building energy efficiency in businesses can be a cost-effective strategy and solution to strengthen economies while addressing evident environmental problems such as energy security, fossil fuel depletion and global warming.