26 January 2009

Businesses Cold to Climate Change Says Study - South-East Asia

By Marwaan Macan-Markar, InterPress Service, January 25, 2009

BANGKOK - Faced with shortages of blue crab delivered to his food processing company a Filipino businessman turned to a green-friendly solution to restore the supply chain.

Alfonso Gamboa urged suppliers to catch crabs with baskets rather than gill nets that damage the crustaceans and wasted part of the catch. It not only improved supplies but also helped conserve crab numbers that had begun to dwindle thanks to seas warming as a result of climate change.

In poverty-stricken Laos, a private company stepped in to supply power to remote areas beyond reach of the main electricity grid. Sunlabob, which uses solar, hydro and biomass as power sources, currently ‘’operates as a profitable, full-service energy provider’’ and has set its sights on becoming the largest provider for ‘’renewable energy solutions.’’

But these examples, singled out in a report released last week, are few and far between in a region that is vulnerable to climate change.

Companies that will be exposed to the ravages of dramatic shifts in the weather and natural disasters are still to join the wave seeking green business answers, reveals the report, ‘Making Climate Your Business - Private Sector Adaptation in Southeast Asia’.

‘’The private sector has been slow to react,’’ notes the 59-page publication brought out by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). ‘’Thus far, business has shown less interest in addressing the impacts of climate change in its operations than the public sector and civil society.’’

‘’Climate change presents several major challenges for business with operations or customers/ suppliers in South-east Asia,’’ adds the report, which was released here to frame discussions at a conference on the role of the Asia-Pacific business community in adapting to climate change.

‘’Distant climate impacts may affect business if suppliers’ operations are disrupted. Operational risks also come from disruptions to infrastructure - if roads or railways are damaged or submerged, supplies cannot come in and finished good cannot go to the market.’’

‘’The train is rolling and if you are not onboard, companies may lose business opportunities and politicians may lose votes,’’ Anders Nordstron, director-general of SIDA, said at the conference that drew nearly 300 delegates from major private corporations in the region.

One area where the private sector was encouraged to take the lead is in field of adaptation to climate change, where stress is placed on initiatives aimed at minimising the effects of climate change.

Adaptation is one of the three main pillars that have emerged in the ongoing global campaign triggered by a rapidly warming planet. The others are mitigation and transferring environmental-friendly technology.

‘’It is in their own self-interest for businesses to take the issue of climate change seriously,’’ said Noeleen Heyzer, head of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), a Bangkok-based U.N. body that co-hosted the conference, which drew nearly 300 representatives from major business houses in the region. ‘’There are new opportunities to trade, new products, green products.’’

But the call for the private sector to take up the climate change challenge cannot be an extension of a business-as-usual model, where there is little change in the way companies pursue their economic interests. ‘’Companies need to embrace the idea of green economics,’’ said Sunita Narain, an Indian environmentalist and director of the Centre for Science and Environment. ‘’It requires a new way of doing business itself.’’

‘’We will have to distinguish between the businesses of the past - the dinosaur businesses - and the businesses of the future,’’ she added. '’The climate change challenge is to attract more businesses of the future, reinvented businesses. We have still not understood the scale of the economic transition that is needed.’’

The real estate sector in South-east Asian cities will have to reflect these new currents, since in capitals like Bangkok they enjoy ample freedom to develop with few limits placed on constructing enivornmentally-sound buildings.

‘’Many governments do not touch the real estate sector because it brings in a lot of investment,’’ says Ranjith Perera, professor of urban environmental management at the Asian Institute of Technology, based north of the Thai capital.

Such building booms have resulted in many cities in the region ‘’grow horizontally, with the line between urban and rural areas being blurred,’’ he told IPS. ‘’Mega-urbanisation is the result.’’

But the threat of climate change will leave many citizens in these urban centres open to natural disasters resulting from hotter temperatures, rising sea levels and floods. ‘’Major cities such as Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Jakarta risk becoming submerged within this century,’’ notes the SIDA report.

The Philippines capital Manila is already grappling with another climate-related problem. ‘’(It) already faces frequent water scarcity. In July 2007, a dry spell led to severe water shortages in the city, causing electricity blackouts,’’ the report states.

The Thai tourist resort of Phuket has been hit likewise, facing ‘’water shortages during peak seasons, creating tensions between local communities and the tourist industry’’.

‘’We are at the stage where many of the effects of climate change are unavoidable, especially in South-east Asia,’’ says Kirk Herbertson of the Washington D.C-based World Resources Institute. ‘’Business should acknowledge the risks of climate change, but should also acknowledge the opportunities climate change offers.’’

Copyright © 2009 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved

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