The Next Big Global Issues and their Relevance for Asia

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

November 3, 2020

The world awaits a COVID-19 vaccine with bated breath, to restore some sense of normalcy to a pandemic-battered world. Even financial markets are expected to witness a sharp resurgence once a possible inoculation is successfully developed. But until then, uncertainty looms heavy with much of Europe now bracing for yet another lockdown.

Once the vaccine does arrive, the pandemic may be somewhat contained. COVID-19 may not consume the headlines as it has for most of 2020. However, there are many other pressing issues that have long made their presence felt but haven’t been addressed with the same sense of urgency. Perhaps it is because these issues are not ‘contagious’ but they are as much a threat to humankind. Climate change, food and water shortages, and pollution have long persisted, affecting large swathes of the global population. But commonplace as they are, they haven’t received sufficient attention like the pandemic has.

It is on account of these longstanding, unresolved predicaments that Horasis is convening the Horasis Asia Meeting on 30 November 2020. It is an all virtual event that will bring together the best of minds from across different sectors, including businesses, governments, think tanks, academia, media and startups to deliberate on pressing issues that require our attention.

Climate change is a looming threat

Industrialization has led to economic progress for a majority of the global population. However, it has also led to an acute increase in carbon levels. This has been largely due to unchecked and increasing industrial and vehicular emissions. Global warming has now become an oft-heard phrase – one that is used in abundance but actual action in arresting its effects seem to be grossly wanting. Economic development is a necessity, no doubt, and its ill effects on the environment are obvious. However, employing sustainable means for economic development is now critical, for only then can the negative effects of climate change be mitigated.

Much of the developed world has taken cognizance of global warming. There are carbon caps in effect, initiatives such as the Paris Agreement have met with varying degrees of success and renewable forms of power generation are being widely adopted. However, with the bulk of manufacturing activity taking place in emerging Asian economies, there must be a greater sense of environmental stewardship on the part of both private and public enterprises in these countries. Asia needs to step up to the cause and assume a more central role in reversing the effects of climate change.

Food shortages are not uncommon

In a stark and dismal contrast of sorts, the rich-poor divide remains wide. It is not uncommon to find food retailing chains in the developed world adhering to stringent food disposal practices. Produce that has gone unsold for a few days is promptly discarded lest it have negative health effects. Without doubt, food safety protocols must be strictly followed.

However, there are also sizeable subsets of the global population who still lack access to three square meals a day. Malnourishment is a pressing problem on account of which children are born with severe deformities. The pandemic has only added to the woes of thousands of households who have had to scale back on both quality and quantity, thanks to higher food prices and reduced incomes.

The United Nations World Food Program has warned that an additional 130 million people could potentially experience severe food insecurity by end of 2020. This figure is in addition to the 135 million people who were already facing food insecurity prior to the pandemic’s onset. Several countries within Asia continue to feel the pinch of food shortages, and for a region to develop – governments, businesses and institutions need to join hands to work together to ensure food security.

Where lies the solution?

—There has been progress, with gains made in socio-economic development. However, the efforts must continue unabated. Emerging economy governments, in many cases, must be lauded for their efforts to arrest climate change and food insecurity. But their work is far from over, and it calls for collaboration with private stakeholders too.

Renewable energy efforts, in particular, are commendable – with China assuming the lead on this front. Technology breakthroughs must be deployed in agriculture and manufacturing processes to ensure that sustainable measures are promoted and adopted. At each step along the way, stakeholders must assume responsibility and take ownership for their actions. The common tendency to pass the buck must be avoided because the negative effects bode ill equally for all of humanity.

Asian economies must assume the mantle of environmental stewardship going forward. Much as it sounds clichéd, humans have wreaked more environmental harm in the past couple of decades than in the millions of years prior to the onset of the industrial revolution. A return to pre-industrial revolution era is not being suggested; rather adopting more sustainable practices is being professed. Environmental degradation and food insecurity must cease, and it must cease now.

Photo Caption: A hungry boy in India. Food insecurity and climate change are pressing issues that need our immediate attention. Image by Martin Pošta from Pixabay.