My Say: Decarbonizing Technical Systems and Recarbonizing Ecosystems in Southeast Asia

In thinking about a green future for Southeast Asia, we offer two lines of analysis. One is focused on technology development (Technology Road Mapping, or TRM) and the other is focused on ecosystem growth (Ecosystem Growth Mapping, or EGM). The latter is at the heart of all the nature of the countries of Southeast Asia.

Technology roadmap

TRM develops a set of possible advanced technology roadmaps and establishes key issues of technical feasibility and cost, so that detailed clarifying explorations can be initiated as part of an overall plan. Everything can then be evidence-based, both in terms of technical possibilities (detailed products and infrastructure issues) and risks (giving a clear view not only of what the risks are, but where we should focus our efforts to explore and clarify risks).

Carbon accounting (CA), which takes into account all carbon costs (CC) and carbon benefits (CB), is fundamental in RFT because that is what we are trying to achieve, i.e. say decarbonization.

It is easier to calculate the carbon benefits of a product than to calculate the carbon costs. Full carbon cost accounting means the full cost of carbon for its development, production, and operation — from establishing mines for ores, transporting ores, and smelting metals from ores to delivery. completion and installation of the product and supply of fuel to operate it.

Using energy and materials for human purposes regardless of cost seems to be the way humanity is headed. Suggesting a carbon benefit of a product without analyzing and establishing the total carbon cost is not “considering” it at all. It is to promulgate a vow.

Obtaining baseline data will be difficult. How do you get the “cost” of the underlying energy use of creating and operating a brand new mining operation, for example? This requires global mining companies to become collaborative and transparent. However, they will not disagree with the principle of doing so. Therefore, it is an exercise in diplomacy to start these conversations and open them up. It’s about building trust. This is essential if the world is ever to achieve a transparent understanding of the carbon emissions it creates in the process of ‘going about its business’.

Mapping ecosystem growth

The second area of ​​analysis, EGM, considers soil, forests, mangroves, corals, seagrasses, etc. as ecosystems. These require roadmaps on how to nurture ecosystems.

While technology needs to be decarbonized, ecosystems – which invest carbon to create life – have suffered from decarbonization and they need to invest, not decarbonize. The growth of ecosystems is actually a process of recarbonization of the natural ecosystem.

Most of the developed world is highly technically developed and therefore naturally thinks in terms of the technology roadmap for the future. However, the majority of Southeast Asian countries are still heavily dominated by natural ecosystems. We need to develop a future strategy for the region that not only recognizes this, but places it at the center of our future strategy.

Traditional research on decarbonization leans heavily in the TRM direction and does not really contain the EGM dimension, and there is no thought of changing mindsets. Even suggesting that a change in mindset is needed will be something that people will struggle with and not easily accept.

State of mind, vocabulary, behavior, actions

We need to develop the mindset, vocabulary, behavior and actions needed to account for carbon and nurture ecosystems. In addition to developing analytical skills, we must also establish the language necessary for humanity to truly evolve and deserve sustainability. Ideas that come from humility in the EGM area are essential.

It is not simply a question of not losing – or not destroying – the main global ecosystems in which the countries of Southeast Asia live, it is a question of developing a more understanding relationship with them, of recognizing the enormous living value they embody in their complexity and learning to improve and reap the harvest from them.

To get people to understand the coordinated complexity of life that is a total ecosystem and to respect it because this totality is important. Humans are part of a community of beings within an ecosystem. Sustainability is not only about ensuring the well-being of future human generations, but also about ensuring the vibrancy of other living beings with whom we share a planet. This is the way of nature – the tao or the justice of heaven.

Climate justice – which is usually discussed in terms of distribution and procedure (horizontal plane) – includes heavenly justice (vertical plane). It is important to have the vertical axis in the frame as it tightens the discussion and expands the coverage at the same time.

There is another mindset issue that needs to be understood and captured in the MRT. All of the renewable (so-called “sustainable”) energy technologies currently installed, under design and development, and due to be installed in the near future – wind and solar in particular – have a lifetime of around 25 years, which means none of them anywhere in the world. world, will still be operational in 2050. All will be abandoned, will have to be dismantled and replaced. To call it “sustainable” is a self-delusion.

When civil engineers design infrastructure, it is common to have a lifespan of 120 years in mind; much of the infrastructure around us is centuries old. Something designed to last 25 years is not infrastructure. Getting excited about it is an inadequate thought. We have to think about developing long-life technology.


Michael James Platts works at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cambridge. Leong Yuen Yoong co-leads the Asean Green Future project at the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Sunway University.