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Which sustainability solutions are most needed to save Southeast Asia’s cities?

By 2030, 100 million more people in Southeast Asia will move from the countryside to cities.

What solutions are needed toensure these urban centres can take the strain, and provide liveable,sustainable environments for their inhabitants?

On Tuesday, Temasek FoundationEcosperity, the philanthropic arm of Singapore’s state investor Temasek, andsustainability publication Eco-Business, launched the third edition of TheLiveability Challenge, a global search for sustainable solutions for Asia’scities.

So what are the biggestproblems that Asian urban planners are facing?

We need to rethink what isgrown in vertical farms. Do we really need strawberries all year round?

Adam Lyle, executive directorand co-founder, Padang & Co

Speaking to Eco-Business onthe sidelines of The Liveability Challenge launch at the Temasek Shophousebuilding in Singapore, Malavika Bambawale, managing director of sustainabilitysolutions for French energy giant Engie, and a former resident of India’scapital New Delhi, singled out air pollution as an often overlookedenvironmental challenge.

“Air pollution is anenvironmental crisis. So how we find solutions?” she said. “First, we need totackle the problem at source, whether it’s fossil fuel plants, deforestationfrom palm oil expansion, or agricultural crop burning. It’s all linked to humanpopulation growth and carbon emissions.”

Karen Sim, seniorsustainability strategist at the non-profit Forum for the Future, pointed towaste management as a key problem that Southeast Asia’s sprawling cities needto tackle.

Five of the top six biggestplastic polluting nations are in Southeast Asia, and the regional bloc has aresponsibility to find ways to reduce its impact on the world’s oceans, saidSim, who was among the speakers at last year’s SG Climate Rally, a public eventthat called for Singapore’s government to take a more ambitious approach toenvironmental action.

“Southeast Asian cities facean acute waste problem, which will be exacerbated by the rise in affluence ofthe region’s middle classes,” noted Sim, who added that better management anddisposal of waste was essential for the region’s cities to prosper.

Edwin Seah, head ofsustainability and communications at Singapore-based industry organisation FoodIndustry Asia, noted that many of Southeast Asia’s cities are in need ofinfrastructure investment, an issue highlighted by plastic pollution.

“If your country can provideclean water, then there’s less need for single-use plastic water bottles,” hesaid.

Adam Lyle, executive directorand co-founder of sustainability innovation firm Padang & Co, said thatfinding alternatives to meat is key.

“We’ve got to reduce ourdependence on livestock,” he said, citing the emissions, land and resourcesfootprint of eating meat. He highlighted vertical farming as a way that citiescould tackle the nutrition crunch.

“We also need to rethink whatis grown in vertical farms. Do we really need strawberries all year round? Wesay we can’t live without coffee, but maybe we have to. Look at how much wateris involved in its production,” he said.

What is The LiveabilityChallenge 2020 looking for?

Urban food production is oneof three focus areas for this year’s Liveability Challenge, which will giveentrepreneurs the chance to win up to S$1 million in funding for ideas thattackle the region’s urban sustainability challenges.

“We are looking for novelsolutions that have high nutrition value and do not use too much land orwater,” explained Lim Hock Chuan, chief executive of Temasek FoundationEcosperity, citing as an example the winner of last year’s Challenge, Sophie’sKitchen, a California-based plant-based seafood firm that produces protein fromfermented microalgae.

Circular packaging is anotherfocus area this year. “Packaging makes a significant contribution to the wasteproblem [in Asia’s cities]. We are looking for solutions that reduce or replaceplastic, paper, aluminium or glass [packaging],” said Lim, who pointed to the2018 winner of The Liveability Challenge, which makes packaging material fromfermented vegetable oil.

The third theme of TheLiveability Challenge 2020 is decarbonisation. The competition is looking forsolutions that can capture and use carbon, as cleantech firm CarbonCure doeswith concrete, Lim explained.

Besides funding, Challenge contenders stand to win a place in anaccelerator programme and a mentorship opportunity with a circular economyinvestment firm.

Shortlisted teams will pitchtheir projects to a panel of investors at an event held during Ecosperity Weekin July. The Challenge is accepting submissions until April 17.

 

 

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