In My Opinion: Asia And Climate Change

Paula Miquelis, Co-founder and Creative Director of Green is the New Black, compares the climate change efforts of East vs West.

As a French expat in Asia working in sustainability, I’m used to hearing from my friends and network back in Europe that “you must be so frustrated about the lack of environmental commitment and action in Asia?”. But that assumption couldn’t be more wrong. It’s such a huge cliche perpetrated by people in the West. China aside, the East is not lagging behind in terms of impact - it just manifests differently.

Yes, Asia is home to several of the world’s largest polluters in terms of plastic waste. But have you ever asked yourself where a lot of that waste comes from? Western countries can and do still send their waste to developing countries (not only in Asia) to be recycled or dumped. In 2020, Malaysia took a stand (following China’s lead in 2018) and began refusing plastic waste from other nations. This year alone, it has returned over 150 containers of waste to wealthy countries including the U.S.A, U.K, France, Canada, Spain and more.

Asia bears the brunt of the world’s obsession with plastic

This year on June 5 (World Environment Day), the documentary Story of Plastic aired on the Discovery channel. We’re all familiar with the detrimental impact of plastic on our environment. But we have yet to fully comprehend the human rights abuse that takes place within the industry. The Story of Plastic is a tell-all that explains how we got to our current global plastic pollution crisis and in particular how the oil and gas industry has successfully manipulated the narrative around it. As Asia bears the brunt of the world’s obsession with plastic, this is a must-watch.

The other point that I always raise is that 50% of emissions come from 10% of the world’s richest countries (which are certainly not in Asia).

Photo courtesy of Paula Miquelis, Green Is The New Black, taken in Hong Kong.

But this isn’t an Asian sob story. There are so many cool innovations, movements, and inspirational individuals championing sustainability in the East. Look at Navi Rajou, author, innovation consultant, and the father of ‘Frugal Innovation’. This movement aims to create stuff with more impact while using less money and raw materials. 

Or Shiok Meat; a cell-based clean meat company based in Singapore that has reinvented seafood. 

And the inspirational Melati Wijsen who started the Bye Bye Plastic Bags movement in Bali. When Melati was just 12 years old and alongside her younger sister, they influenced the laws surrounding a ban on single-use plastic which has now been implemented on the island.

Melati was one of the 'Green Warriors' 2019 - shot by Alex Macro.

Then there’s the #up2degrees campaign in Singapore. It’s a campaign driven by Sandra Marichal, another French expat in Singapore. She managed to enforce a law (after soft lobbying for a year) that all public certified buildings cannot go under a minimum temperature to mitigate the impact of cooling gas.

The #up2degrees team

Or Ibuku in Bali. It’s a Bali-based architectural and manufacturing company that only uses sustainable bamboo in its constructions.

Photo courtesy of Paula Miquelis, Green Is The New Black, taken in Hong Kong.

And when it comes to individuals, we’re spoilt for choice. Every year Green Is The New Black honours the people making a difference in Asia through our Green Warriors campaign. There are so many people doing incredible things that it’s hard to narrow it down. The annual GenT list from Tatler also shines a light on the entrepreneurs shaping the sustainability scene.

One individual who particularly inspires me is Arthur Huang; Founder of Miniwiz and a National Geographic emerging explorer. His agency turns wastes into materials and buildings; incredible!

There are also myriad conscious lifestyle brands emerging from within Asia. From fashion and beauty to F&B and cool apps helping individuals live more sustainably. The innovation in this space coming out of Asia is truly exciting. 

Photoshoot with conscious brands in Asia.

And let’s not forget the traditional artisans that South-East Asia, in particular, is famous for. These individuals were creating sustainable products long before it was cool. And for me, these are the people who we should be listening to. How they operate, in a completely sustainable, circular fashion, is what the rest of the world should aspire to.

Photo courtesy of Paula Miquelis, Green Is The New Black, taken in Hong Kong.

You can meet, engage and be inspired by a lot of these thought leaders and change makers at the Virtual Conscious Festival happening 12-14 June. A 3-day interactive online escape with impact that will see you pinging across continents, countries, and borders between Asia and Europe to observe and learn first-hand about the challenges and solutions relating to climate change.