Sustainable Asia
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Sustainable Asia

COP26 highlights and innovations in Asia

6 December 2021 By Stella Chen and Khoa Tran

This week we close our coverage of COP26 with some main takeaways, and discuss two new green innovative projects in Asia: a net-zero emissions airport in India and lab-grown seafood in Singapore.

photo credit by caffeineAM is licensed under CC BY 2.0

COP26 highlights

On 13 November 2021, nation parties attending the conference agreed to the “Glasgow Climate Pact,” the first ever deal to explicitly reduce coal, and also the first mention of coal in a climate agreement since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. There was however a last minute push by China and India to weaken the language around coal and so the countries ended up agreeing to “phase down” rather than “phase out” coal. Disappointing to many, but that still means that every year, coal production and usage — -which accounts for 40% of annual carbon dioxide emissions — -will have to decrease.

On top of this, several pledges have been made in the course of the 2 weeks of negotiation. One of them involved roughly 100 countries agreeing to end deforestation by 2030 — -that’s right, end. Important countries with large forested areas were involved such as Brazil, China, and Indonesia. A similar agreement was reached in 2014 already, but this time, the pledge is being backed by some 19 billion dollars in both public and private sectors.

Another important pledge was about cutting methane emissions. This time, more than 90 countries, representing two thirds of the global economy, agreed to cut at least 30% of their emissions by 2030. As previously covered, methane may not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide does, but methane causes 80 times more greenhouse effects, so eliminating it could be a good short-term decision to limit temperature rise. Unfortunately though China, India and Russia, which are major methane producers, were not part of this pledge.

Surprisingly, just as the conference was ending, the US and China also emerged with a joint declaration, pledging to work together and further the goals of the Paris Agreement in the next decade. Some of the items the two have pledged to cooperate on include regulatory frameworks and standards, clean energy transition, decarbonisation, circular economy, and green technologies such as carbon capture. This is a big step considering the political turmoil between these top-two polluters, but much of the pledge remains unquantified and so we still have to wait and see how the details are going to be hashed out.

In the meantime however, COP26 remains controversial as the new adjusted targets still won’t put humanity on track to limit global temperatures within 1.5 degrees celsius of pre-industrial levels. Most plans submitted ahead of the talks would lead to a disastrous 2.4 degrees celsius of heating, something that would need to be adjusted for next year’s COP27 in Egypt.

India’s net-zero emission airport

As previously covered, one nation that made a surprise and much welcome climate pledge to carbon neutrality was India. The country of 1.3 billion inhabitants promised to switch to 50% renewables by 2030 and net-zero by 2070. A little late compared to developed nations in the EU and US who are aiming for 2050, but still a step forward for a developing country so reliant on coal. And on par with its pledge, India’s been launching many green initiatives.

One which caught our attention was the construction of Noida International Airport, India’s first net-zero emission airport. Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the first stone for the foundations last Thursday, November 25th, in a ceremony launching the construction of the 4.5 billion dollars project. First announced in 2018, the airport is being built in the outskirts of New Delhi, 72 kilometers apart from the capital’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, strategically located to serve many large cities in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

What makes this airport special from an environmental point of view is the conceptualization of the whole project. Lots of planning went into maximizing sustainability in design, but also logistics of the construction including forest management of the construction site. The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement last Tuesday that a plot of land has been registered to replant trees removed from the airport site. The project will also protect all native tree species and guarantee“nature-positive” construction during the whole development process, although no concrete information has yet been disclosed on how these can be achieved.

That’s actually very exciting news, because the concern over environmental effects are often far away from an airport project’s agenda. While airport infrastructure often cuts through existing urban neighbourhoods due to the elevated highway structures, there are not many good solutions for their segregation from the community, including the effects on wetland, plants or rare species. An important thing to add is that even though “net-zero” sounds good, it doesn’t mean that the project won’t emit carbon, just that these emissions are being somehow offset.

Singapore is betting on cell-based food

Now looking at what’s new in sustainability lifestyle. Singaporean food tech company Shiok Meats has opened its first R&D facility dedicated to making cell-based seafood. The opening was inaugurated by Singapore’s sustainability and environmental minister Grace Fu who described the plant as a “welcome addition to [Singapore’s] sustainable agri-food ecosystem”.

That’s such a huge progress for the cell-based food industry in Asia! For those who don’t know about cell-based food, it is a way of making food by growing cells in a lab instead of raising animals or cultivating plants. Essentially, it allows people to make meat, arguably without causing animal suffering. Cell-based meat, also known as cultured meat, is grown using tissue engineering technology that was originally used in regenerative medicines. Using a mix of muscle and fat cells, food scientists can recreate tastes similar to the living stock version yet without the animal waste, which means no bones and no eyeballs.

Singapore, in recent years, has been a hot hub of sustainable foods and alternative proteins in Asia. Shiok said that their processes of cell-based seafood including shrimp, lobster, crab and crayfish are sustainable and traceable, and they are preparing for commercialization of the cultivated seafood technology in 2023. According to Shiok’s consumer studies, over 78% of Singapore residents are open to trying cell-based seafood, while in Hong Kong, the figure is at 95%. Local brands like Omnipork and imported ones like Beyond Meats or Impossible Foods have helped lead this trend towards meat alternatives. So there is hope in the future of food being more sustainable in Asia.

Listen to our podcast episode for more green updates for the week! GreenBites will return on a bi-weekly basis after this episode. Subscribe to GreenBites and our other podcasts at www.sustainableasia.co. And don’t forget to follow our social media @SustainableAsia so we can keep you up-to-date on green news.

Sustainable Asia’s podcast “GreenBites’’ is hosted by Chermaine Lee, Khoa Tran, Avery Choi and Stella Chen. Executive Producer: Marcy Trent Long Associate Producer: Rachel Li

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