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THE BROAD VIEW

Asian cities working towards a greener scenario

Asia also has many opportunities to be innovative and bold with its transport models to cut carbon emissions.

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An employee of Toyota Motor Corp working on a unit of a fuel-cell stack and hydrogen tanks of a Mirai fuel-cell vehicle on it's assembly line at the company's Motomachi plant in Toyota, in Aichi prefecture, Japan.

Singapore

I GREW up in a coal-mining family in Lancashire in the UK. My father worked in a mine as a young man, and my grandfather and his father before that were also miners of coal, the fossil fuel that produces the most carbon emissions.

My family earned a living from coal, for generations. Eventually, I became more aware of the importance of energy - to fuel most of the things we need to do in the world so that people can earn decent livelihoods - and also the need to protect the planet.

Today, my job is far away from the coal mines. I explore possible futures, envisioning how society might tackle climate change, even as the world's population grows and demands more energy.

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As head of Shell's Scenarios team, I study cities such as Singapore, where I sit on the international panel of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). The authority organises the World Cities Summit, a platform for government leaders and experts to share ideas on urban development, which takes place this month (#WCSSG2018).

Sky scenario

At the last summit, held in 2016, mayors and city leaders listed transport planning and development as the biggest challenge facing cities.

This is echoed in Shell's latest scenario, called Sky, which shows that changing ways we transport people and goods is one of the crucial steps towards the world meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement - keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 deg Celsius, above pre-industrial levels.

What happens in cities is vital. This is especially true in Asia, where urbanisation and fast-growing populations will bring new environmental challenges.

Asia is already home to 53 per cent of the world's urban population, followed by Europe (14 per cent) and Latin America and the Caribbean (13 per cent). There is a pressing need to harness businesses, citizens and policymakers in urban planning.

As more people move into Asia's cities to live, work and play, the number of vehicles will rise, risking gridlock and idling engines in what are already some of the world's most congested and polluted metropolises.

But Asia also has many opportunities to be innovative and bold with its transport models. Building compact cities that efficiently integrate public and private modes of transport is important, as is the adoption of new technologies.

Let me give you two examples, from China and Japan.

Electrifying Chinese transport

China is leading the world in promoting electric vehicles. Even though Beijing cut subsidies by as much as 40 per cent in 2017, sales of vehicles powered by electricity still rose more than 80 per cent from the year before, showing that the momentum is there. Electric vehicles now make up only 0.3 per cent of China's vehicles, but half of the country still lives in rural areas. As its economy grows and its cities develop, China's percentage of electric vehicles on the road is likely to increase.

But there is still some way to go. According to data gathered by the Scenarios team to support Sky, over 25 per cent of China's passenger vehicle kilometres could be driven on electricity in 2040. By 2050, half the world could have followed suit.

Hydrogen in Japan

Japan is another Asian country that is making bold transport plans. In 2017, it released a blueprint towards a possible "hydrogen society" by 2040. Cars that run on hydrogen do not produce carbon emissions from the tail-pipe. Buses powered by hydrogen fuel-cells already run in Tokyo and the government aims to use the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020 to showcase hydrogen technology in its athletes' village.

Today, out of Japan's 70 million vehicles, only 2,200 are fuel-cell cars. But the Japanese government aims to increase the number to 40,000 by 2021. It also hopes to increase the number of hydrogen stations from 91 to160 in that same period.

In Sky, by 2070 - when the world would need to achieve net-zero carbon emissions to meet the Paris goal - over half of the world's freight kilometres could be driven by electricity or hydrogen.

It is just over 50 years from now - barely a lifetime away.

But this coal miner's boy has seen enough change in his lifetime to believe that anything is possible, especially in a region as dynamic as Asia.

  • The writer is vice-president, Global Business Environment, at Royal Dutch Shell, and head of Shell Scenarios. He was in Singapore this week for the launch of Shell's latest energy-system scenario called Sky, and also to speak on the Resilience Track of the 6th World Cities Summit.