Sustainability in Asia Pacific

November 2021

Asia Pacific remains the largest CO2 emitter in the world, as rapid economic development and growing energy demand contribute to high consumption. Despite having huge potential for renewable energy sources, the region is still heavily dependent on coal and natural gas. High pollution levels and climate change are leading to a deterioration in biodiversity, with the number of threatened species growing every year. The region also faces an increase in number and severity of natural disasters.

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Key Findings

The region faces an increase in climate change effects

Due to climate change, the severity and intensity of natural disasters that affect Asia Pacific is growing. Regional countries are struggling to adapt to the rapid change, and thus increasingly lack coping capacity to safely withstand adverse natural events. The adverse climate is also threatening agriculture and food security, as well as water availability.

Fossil fuels remain the leading energy supplier

Asia Pacific is rich in fossil fuel reserves, especially coal, but some countries still struggle to ensure universal access to energy supply. To sustain its fast-paced growth in energy demand, the region is projected to further increase its renewable capacity. China is already leading in terms of global renewable capacity growth.

Air pollution remains elevated

The region remains the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, and levels of carbon emissions have been rising, as demand for energy is increasing and coal power plants remain prevalent. Furthermore, growing demand for meat and rice is contributing to growth in methane emissions.

Lack of environmental protection measures persist

Most countries in Asia Pacific remain among the bottom half of countries globally in terms of forest and biodiversity protection, as the share of protected land areas remain insufficient, biodiversity loss is growing, and marine protection is stagnating.

Growing concerns over water stress

With rapid population growth, increasing demand for water and depleting renewable water resources, Asia Pacific is failing to ensure universal access to water, and water shortages are growing. Moreover, political tensions remain high between water-strained countries in the region.

Large agricultural sector, yet limited food availability

With vast agricultural areas, some Asia Pacific countries are among the largest agricultural producers globally; however, due to the health crisis in 2020, poverty and expenditure on food increased, limiting food availability.


Key findings

Sustainability Index

The Environmental Sustainability Index
The six core pillars of environmental sustainability
Asia Pacific predicted to achieve only 10% of SDGs by 2030
Energy technology development improves Sustainability Index rank
Japan, China and Myanmar improve Sustainability Index rankings

Energy Pillar

Energy ranking has worsened significantly for Singapore
Asia Pacific performs well in the Energy Security category globally
Access to clean fuels remains a problem
Fossil fuels remain a leading source of electricity in Asia Pacific

Pollution Pillar

Bangladesh leads in pollution pillar in 2020
Municipal waste an unsolved problem for Asia Pacific cities
CO2 emissions remain dangerously high
Growth in livestock and crop farming increase methane emissions

Forest and Biodiversity Pillar

Indonesia struggles to protect its rich biodiversity
Malaysia and Sri Lanka fail to tackle biodiversity loss
International organisations stepping in to tackle wildlife crimes
The proportion of protected marine areas remains minuscule

Water Pillar

The water situation in Asia barely changed over 2016-2020
India and Pakistan facing the most serious water issues regionally
Renewable water reserves are diminishing
Agriculture – the key water user – facing highest water stress

Food and Agriculture Pillar

Poverty in Kazakhstan contributes to deteriorating ranking
Food affordability remains a challenge in developing economies
Poorest countries spend more than a third of their budget on food
Policy developments ignite interest in organic farming in Asia

Environmental Resilience Pillar

Thailand improved its position in terms of environmental resilience
Asia has the largest number of cities most exposed to sea level rise
Asia Pacific becoming more susceptible to extreme weather events
Losses caused by climate change remain significant

Country Snapshots

South Korea: Good food/agriculture availability, but high pollution
Among the highest CO2 emissions from fossil fuels globally
Japan: Food is an available and affordable resource
Japan is among the most energy-efficient economies in the world
Singapore: Global leader in water recycling and desalination tech
Forest and biodiversity availability is expected to remain low
China: High levels of pollution and poor water resources
China leads in terms of forest area growth
Thailand: Poor global position in terms of energy sustainability
One of the highest percentages of protected areas in Asia Pacific
Pakistan suffers from acute water shortages
Significantly lower CO2 emissions in a global context
India: Poor biodiversity protection, but stronger in agriculture
India struggles to shift from coal and other fossil fuels
Cambodia: Among the least environmentally resilient globally
Higher water availability in Cambodia
Bangladesh: Low energy availability, but higher in air quality
Population in Bangladesh struggles to afford food
The Philippines: Low environmental resilience
High water stress, although precipitation levels are high


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