Commentary

Investors can tap opportunities amid green revolution in S-E Asia

Four paths in region's journey towards greater sustainability and smarter cities

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's first major assessment in nearly a decade predicts no end to rising temperatures before 2050 unless greenhouse gas emissions are slashed.

The United Nations agency said temperatures will rise by 1.5 degrees by 2040, which will mean more frequent and severe extreme weather then, compared with what we are experiencing today.

Now the good news. The damage caused by going beyond 1.5 degrees can be managed if we achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

In South-east Asia, the green revolution is taking place in earnest.

The stakes are high. South-east Asia is home to 20 per cent of the world's biodiversity, yet if it fails to act decisively, the region will experience more environmental stress - unbearable pollution from carbon emissions, industrial waste and diminishing natural resources.

Adaptation is critical. Many South-east Asian countries need to adapt to manage the physical risks that come with climate change. For example, better flood management and better use of natural resources.

In the next decade, South-east Asia is going to double its size to become the fourth-largest economic bloc, after the United States, China and the European Union.

As the region grows, any rebalancing towards a greener economy will create substantial opportunity.

Green plan offers a blueprint

Singapore's Green Plan 2030 offers a blueprint for the region to rebalance into a green economy, but also provides a springboard to bring about change for the region.

As part of the plan, Singapore can leverage its position as a global financial centre to bring forth innovation in green financing and environmental, social and governance (ESG) investments.

Green financing is an important enabler to catalyse the transformation of the region's green economy.

Singapore is developing green financing instruments, such as loans, bonds and insurances, which will support growth in the green economy for South-east Asia.

Singapore can be the leading carbon trading market for the region by putting in place infrastructure to ensure better pricing and liquidity of carbon credits.

With a functioning carbon market for the region, companies and governments will be incentivised to manage carbon emissions.

Furthermore, Singapore, as a leading wealth management hub, can help to accelerate the shift to sustainable and ESG investing for South-east Asia.

Many parts of South-east Asia are at an inflection point. The region's Internet economy could reach more than US$300 billion (S$402 billion) in 2025; sustainability efforts can be advanced through tech investments.

The region, led by Singapore, is a hotbed for innovation and green technology.

The trillion-dollar green prize

According to Bain, South-east Asia's transformation towards a greener economy can account for US$1 trillion in annual economic opportunities by 2030. The value can come from innovation from sustainable industries and cost savings from resource efficiencies.

Four paths to capture the region's green opportunities can be found as South-east Asia urbanises its cities, transitions in its energy sources, enhances food sustainability and reconfigures supply chains.

1 Building sustainable and smart cities

With South-east Asia expecting a population surge of 90 million in the next decade, there will be more stress on existing infrastructure systems.

Cities are responsible for 75 per cent of carbon emissions, with transport and buildings being the largest contributors.

Smart building solutions can unlock cost savings by installing efficient energy usage.

However, to solve climate change, transport has to go electric. Electric vehicles (EV) account for under 1 per cent of market penetration now but demand is going to rise exponentially in the region.

Indonesia has targeted 25 per cent in the next decade. EVs are expected to grow to more than 40 per cent of vehicle sales by 2040.

This will bring immerse improvements in EV infrastructure. For example, Singapore aims to deploy 60,000 charging points by 2030.

2 Transitioning towards greener energy

Resource extraction and energy generation are still very much coal-reliant and inefficient in the region, and must be decarbonised in a sustainable manner.

Asean has set a target of having a 23 per cent share of renewable energy in primary energy supply by 2025. It is not realistic to suddenly replace fossil fuels with renewables. However, the transition to natural gas is one low-hanging fruit.

The advancement of green hydrogen technology can possibly be a solution but solar and wind have the potential to grow significantly due to the huge land masses in the region.

Singapore can play a crucial role of being a clean tech hub to test-bed the commercialisation of many new green technologies - such as green hydrogen and battery storage capabilities - and scale these solutions for South-east Asia.

3 Securing a sustainable food chain

Agricultural practices are subsistence and inefficient in many parts of the region; however, employing technology and localising production are key to feeding a growing and large urban population in a sustainable manner.

Singapore - a small city with limited land for traditional agriculture - wants to increase its local food production through vertical farms and sustainable aquaculture that can increase yield.

It is experimenting with new technologies in developing alternative plant-based protein, which is estimated to be US$15 billion in 2025.

Indeed, sustainable agriculture technology can be scaled across South-east Asia improving yield and food production significantly.

4 Reconfiguring for more efficient supply chains

South-east Asia's manufacturing hub can become a viable alternative to China.

As supply chains shift to South-east Asia, more robotics and automation will be employed to improve productivity and get more efficient overall use of energy.

Furthermore, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnerships will allow the standardisation of cross-border regulations, which will reduce trade efficiencies, streamline logistics and eventually reduce carbon emissions.

South-east Asia's green revolution should not be ignored by investors. The prize is big. The road to a greener economy can account for US$1 trillion in annual economic opportunities by 2030.

There are four paths for investors to position themselves for these opportunities as South-east Asia urbanises its cities, transitions in its energy sources, enhances its food sustainability, and reconfigures its supply chains.

•The writer is the chief investment officer for South-east Asia at HSBC's private banking and wealth management.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2021, with the headline 'Investors can tap opportunities amid green revolution in S-E Asia'. Subscribe