Recently I was invited to give a talk on the topic of ‘climate change and sustainability in Asia’. While accepting this invitation easily, my immediate response was also “Let me think about how to put this together coherently.”
Having one and a half hours to fill on this topic in front of an audience of experienced diplomats was a pretty daunting task. I am in front of various audiences regularly, but always with a more focused and concise topic such as CSR in Japan or sustainability as a business opportunity in China.
But talking about climate change, sustainability and Asia – isn’t that like talking about, well, everything? Where do I start?
An umbrella for sustainability & Asia
That starting point turned out to be the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the UN in September 2015 and providing a framework of 17 goals for all countries for sustainable development. The SDGs range from ‘no poverty’ and ‘climate action’ to building public-private partnerships. A major difference, apart from the broadened scope in themes, is the fact that the SDGs don’t only aim at developing countries but also ask countries to look at their own situation at home. This means there is a big domestic dimension to achieving the SDGs.
Clearly, each country does this differently. An example from the Netherlands is Gemeenten4GlobalGoals, a campaign to stimulate Dutch municipalities to work on the SDGs. Meanwhile, the Japanese ministry of Foreign Affairs has enlisted the help of comedian Pikotaro to promote the SDGs with this video clip.
Back to my talk at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Using a couple of these SDGs enabled me to build an ‘umbrella’ and connect various developments in Asia that matter. To include just a few examples that had been in the news just that week (or day, even!):
– on SDG #13 – Climate Action: at the G20 in Hamburg in July, the G20 ‘agreed to disagree’ with the US and proceed with the further implementation of the Paris Climate Accord, without the US
– on SDG #12 – Responsible Consumption and Production: seafood multinational Thai Union and Greenpeace announced a new agreement to work towards better fishing practices and to improve working conditions on their ships (as seen in the above picture)
How the SDGs are relevant in Asia now
But also the other Goals that I highlighted are easily linked to topics that are highly relevant in today’s Asia. SDG #9 includes a focus on infrastructure (and industry and innovation), where an important question for the Asian region is how sustainable and green both the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the One Belt One Road initiative are. The former has been branded as ‘lean, clean and green’, but is it?
The relevance of SDG #11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities becomes clear when you look at urbanisation rates across the region. One indicator is that the top 10 of largest cities in 2030 the first 7 cities will be Asian. An important concern for governments will be how to grow cities in such a way that they remain (or become, in some cases) livable for such large amounts of people.
Connecting sustainability in Asia and Europe
All of these developments will also have an impact on governments, consumers and citizens in for example Western Europe, even if Asia sometimes seems far away. I was happy to see the interest from all participants in this topic, with engaging questions and discussions. This also means considering how to connect these topics to day to the day work that may be part of a Dutch embassy in Asia, as it does for Dutch companies active in Asia as well. I look forward to working with these organisations – both government and business – on how to do this!