Asian wealth translates into greater environmental awareness: study

February 14, 2011
A new report examining the environmental performance of 22 major Asian cities has found that Singapore is Asia's greenest metropolis.

The Asian Green City Index - a study commissioned by Siemens and performed by the independent Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) - analyzed the aims and achievements of Asia's major cities in eight categories: energy and CO2, land use and buildings, transport, waste, water, sanitation, air quality and environmental governance.

Jan Friederich, research head of the EIU study said the results showed "very clearly" that higher income does not necessarily mean higher resource consumption. While resource consumption increases substantially up to an annual gross domestic product (GDP) of about USD21,000 per capita, it drops again when income rises beyond this."

Why? In the prosperous Asian cities, environmental awareness is greater and infrastructures are more efficient. These cities are actively cutting their consumption of natural resources and are thus developing more sustainably.

"In addition, cities that performed well in the Index are characterized by their ability to successfully implement environmental projects and consistently enforce regulations," explained Friederich.

This contradicts speculation among experts over the past several years that the growing middle class in Asia, and the increasing wealth of China and India, could lead to huge environmental damage if it mirrored the resource consumption habits experienced in the West.

The six cities in the top income bracket - above USD29,000 GDP per capita - consistently used less water, and produced less waste and fewer carbon emissions than the five cities in the mid-range GDP bracket, with a per capita GDP between USD10,000 and USD25,000.

Singapore, whose residents were the fourth-wealthiest among the 22 cities measured, generating a GDP per person of USD36,500, stood out in particular for its ambitious environmental targets and its efficient approach to achieving them. In other Asian cities as well, however, environmental awareness and climate protection guidelines are playing an increasingly important role.

"The Asian Green City Index supports cities in their efforts to expand their infrastructures on a sustainable basis. We want to enable Asia's up-and-coming urban centers to achieve healthy growth rates coupled with a high quality of life," said Barbara Kux, member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG and the company's chief sustainability officer.

Overall, the study found that the average annual CO2 emissions per capita in Asian cities was 4.6 tons, less than the corresponding figure for Europe of 5.2 tons per capita a year.

Similarly, the 22 Asian cities produced an average of 375 kilograms of waste per capita and year, less than in Latin America where each person accounts for an average 465 kilograms of waste and Europe, where average waste levels reach 511 kilograms.

Nevertheless, Asia's cities still face challenges in meeting environmental targets, not least the fact that all of the cities studied breached World Health Organization Standards for air pollution levels.

Cities were also urged to boost renewable energy supplies, which accounted for 11 percent of the total electricity generated on average. By comparison, the average in Latin America was 64 per cent due to the high proportion of hydroelectric power plants.

Even Singapore's CO2 emissions exceeded the limit required to prevent a rise of global temperatures by two degrees, said Kux.

"The rapidly growing cities in Asia simply don't have the time to develop slowly over centuries, as did European cities," she told reporters today. "To meet and master the challenges of the future, Asia's cities must 'leapfrog' in their development."