With unprecedented migration from the rural areas to urban centres, the future of Asia lies inevitably in its cities. For the last five years, Asia has added 37 million urban residents each year or more than 100,000 everyday. It will be in the cities that Asian business, human and financial capital will be concentrated. According to the United Nations, by 2026, half of the Asian population will be living in the cities. It will be these cities that are going to be the leading consumers of energy and the primary source of greenhouse gases, underscoring the imperative need to promote and develop them as Green cities, because how the Asian countries manage their cities will be vital for the general wellbeing of the Asian population. Green cities are defined as those that are environmentally friendly and are sustainable cities that operate with due consideration of environmental impact with respect to efficient usage of energy, water, food and heat, as well as reduced air and water pollution. According to Nicholas You, Chairman of the Steering Committee of UN-Habitat’s World Urban Campaign, the path to greener cities lies in administering cities as “living organisms” and by devising appropriate policies that are holistic and not to indulge in a sector-by-sector approach across competing jurisdictions. Singapore is Asia's greenest metropolis as the state-intervention has resulted in the implementation of a number of green policies. Hong Kong secures the number one position in eco-building standards. Similarly, Tokyo leads in producing less amount of emission than other metropolises, Osaka has the best public-transport network and Seoul scores well for having the densest metro and bus rapid transit system. Other major cities in Asia like Beijing are promoting the use of green roofs to mitigate climate change impact, while New Delhi has maintained a significant amount of open green space. Asia’s top ten greenest cities have their unique ‘green’ USPs.
With historically unprecedented levels of urbanisation across Asia, there is also a growing realisation across governments on the need for comprehensive policies focused on improving the urban environment. This has resulted in a fairly consistent overall performance in a unique study of 22 cities across the region with most of the Asian cities having comprehensive policies in place for almost every environmental area evaluated in the Asian Green City Index. As Professor Yue-Man Yeung, emeritus professor of geography at the Hong Kong University, puts it: “The most important thing that you must have for a city to clean up is political will.” Not surprisingly, the key differentiator among the cities surveyed by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by Siemens, to develop the index is the ability to execute and enforce the policy regulations. The 22 selected cities are either country capitals or leading business centres selected for their size or importance with breadth of information it uses being one of the main strengths. There are 29 individual indicators for each city, and these indicators are often based on multiple data points. Each city is assessed in eight categories and placed within a performance band to indicate its relative results. The eight categories are energy and carbon dioxide, land use and buildings, transport, waste, water, sanitation, air quality and environmental governance. What is encouraging is that 14 of the 22 Asian cities appear in the same performance band for at least five of the eight categories. Another interesting finding is the positive correlation between prosperity and environmental performance with wealthier cities consistently performing better. The explanation being that richer cities are able to make necessary investments in urban infrastructure, and can afford to maintain a professional, experienced civil service to drive environmental initiatives. However at a certain level, resource consumption does not continue to rise with income, the index indicates.
There is a positive correlation between a city’s prosperity and environmental performance. Nothing exemplifies it better than Singapore’s example, which according to the Asian Green City Index, is the greenest city in Asia. The accorded explanation is that richer cities are able to make necessary investments in urban infrastructure and can afford to maintain a professional, experienced civil service to drive environmental initiatives. Among the 22 Asian cities studied for compiling the index, the city-state Singapore is the index leader with a well above average ranking overall. The world’s fourth richest city with a per capita income of US$36,500, Singapore, with a 5 million-strong population, can afford cutting-edge water recycling plants, waste-to-energy facilities and major investments in its transport system. The hallmark of Singapore’s impressive environmental performance remains sustainability. Singapore is best, when it comes to waste and water management categories. It has one of the highest rates of waste collection in the index and the second lowest rate of water system leakages. It scores above average in all other categories, with particularly strong results for its high per capita green space, the length of its rapid transit network and its sanitation system.
With a more than 17-million-strong population and a daily floating population of 2 million, the capital of India is the third most populous city in the Asian Green City Index. A bustling financial centre, it contributes about 5% to India’s GDP. With a per capita income of $2000, it is among the poorest cities in the index, but despite the environmental challenges that low income can often pose, Delhi ranks ‘average’ overall in the Index. The city performs remarkably well in the energy and CO2 categories with one of the lowest emission levels of the latter. The other category where Delhi scores is in waste management, which is due to robust waste collection and recycling policies and the fact that Delhi’s inhabitants generate the least waste per person among the 22 cities - at an extraordinarily low per capita waste generation figure of 147 kg per year. Delhi gets full marks for steps to reduce emissions from mass transport and for encouraging residents to take greener forms of transport. It already boasts of the 13,000 buses running on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), a less-harmful fossil fuel than diesel. The government has made it mandatory for all city buses and auto rickshaws to run on CNG with the intention of reducing air pollution. With that result, New Delhi figures in one of the greenest cities of Asia.