OF the seven cities with the worst air pollution in the world,
five - Beijing, Calcutta, Jakarta, Shenyang, and New Delhi - are in
Asia. Levels of dissolved mercury in some Asian rivers greatly
exceed recommended levels, while deforestation is wiping away
nearly 2 million hectares a year.
With half the worldwide demand for new electrical generating
capacity coming from Asia in the next 10 years, new environmental
safeguards will be required to meet international standards for
greenhouse-gas and acid-rain emissions. Not surprisingly, East Asia
is expected to account for a greater increase in carbon dioxide and
sulphur dioxide emissions in the 1990s than all other regions in
the world combined.
There are hopeful signs, however, that ecological concerns are
being accorded a higher policy priority. Both Taiwan and South
Korea are pouring billions of dollars into pollution cleanup
programs. Green expenditure in China's eighth five-year plan
(1991-1995) has increased 50 percent over the previous five-year
plan. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has designated
1995 as the Year of the Environment and has initiated a regional
environmental action plan. In a recent survey by the Far Eastern
Economic Review, the leading business and news magazine in Asia, 70
percent of readers responded that a better environment would most
improve their quality of life.
But despite increasing public concern and governmental
attention, there is still a large gap between environmental
problems and the financial resources of governments and
international donors to resolve them. The World Bank estimates that
Asia will need $38 billion a year by 2000, or 2 percent to 3
percent of the region's gross domestic product, to address
environmental problems. Where is this money going to come from?
Here are three suggestions.
First, improve the investment climate in the public
infrastructure sectors, including power, transport, and sanitation.
There is a mismatch between the largest markets for power plants
and sulphur oxide control equipment and at the same time one of the
worst overall climates for such investments. It will require
billions of dollars for China to boost its electrical-power
generation and purchase pollution-abatement technologies, but it
isn't certain if or when the urgent need for green investments will
translate into a viable market for environmental products and