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Asia’s Climate Optimism

East Asia will enter the post-pandemic recovery with excess capacity, substantial liquidity, and a growing consensus on the need for a green transition. The question is how these economies can make the most of this moment to lock in progress toward official decarbonization pledges.

HONG KONG – Optimism is in the air in Asia, where the new Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership has brightened prospects for a post-pandemic recovery and a revival of multilateralism. Even more promising, there is growing regional agreement on the need to address climate change.

China’s recent announcement that it will aim for carbon neutrality by 2060 – which was followed by commitments from Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 – shows that East Asia is serious about the issue. But truly making a difference will require reconsidering the traditional Asian development model, which has long tolerated environmental degradation in the interest of maximizing growth.

While China’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2060 is a good start, electricity demand is already forecast to double by 2050 (from 2017 levels). It therefore must urgently step up its efforts to improve energy efficiency, adopt green and low-carbon energy, expand energy storage, deploy carbon capture and sequestration technologies, and develop a framework for low-carbon urbanization. Many of the needed technologies are already available, and East Asia has the scale to bring down their cost to a level that would enable widespread adoption.

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