Heng Swee Keat: 'Nature is not, & cannot be, just a passive victim of economic development'

A study identified 59 nature-positive business opportunities in Asia Pacific which can unlock US$4.3 trillion in business value.

Zi Shan Kow | September 29, 2021, 07:20 PM

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Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat emphasised the potential of nature-based solutions in light of the climate crisis.

In his opening address for the second day of Temasek's sustainability event, Ecosperity, Heng urged for us to "reimagine our constraints, and turn them into opportunities".

"Nature is not, and cannot be, just a passive victim of economic development," he said.

"In fact, nature can be an active partner in our pursuit of sustainable development."

A fresh perspective on nature

"We must change the way we view nature – it is not something to be sacrificed, but something to be treasured, and invested in, to achieve our climate goals," Heng said.

It is estimated that 63 per cent of Asia Pacific’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), US$19.5 trillion (S$26.5 trillion), is threatened by biodiversity and nature loss.

This was one of the main findings of a new report titled "New Nature Economy: Asia’s Next Wave" by AlphaBeta, Temasek, and the World Economic Forum, published on Sep. 29 at Ecosperity Week 2021.

The report also projected that up to 42 per cent of all species in Southeast Asia could be lost by 2100, half of which would be global extinctions.

Three major socioeconomic systems are highly dependent on nature

According to the report, three major socioeconomic systems in Asia Pacific pose the biggest threat to nature.

They are: the food, land and ocean use system, the infrastructure and built environment, and the energy and extractives system.

These services are also highly dependent on biodiversity services. If poorly managed, they can have a negative impact on public health and threaten the basic needs of the region's growing population.

Therefore, it is important to find ways to reduce the natural resources we use, use them efficiently, and reduce the harm we cause on the environment.

"Business-as-usual is no longer an option," Founder and Managing Director of AlphaBeta, Fraser Thompson said.

These systems also present the largest opportunities for nature-positive economic growth.

“The good news is that this report demonstrates that there is a pathway for businesses that can not only strengthen the resilience of their operations and actively contribute back to nature, but also create major new growth opportunities. Multi-stakeholder action between businesses, government, and civil society in Asia Pacific can unlock these nature-positive opportunities,” Thompson added.

Tremendous business and job opportunities

Heng highlighted in his speech that the "potential for nature-based solutions in Southeast Asia is tremendous".

He mentioned that Southeast Asia is a significant carbon sink with 200 million hectares of terrestrial forests, and "the largest blue carbon stock in the world" which refers to coastal and marine ecosystems like the mangroves.

The new report published today also identified a total of 59 nature-positive business opportunities.

These opportunities can unlock US$4.3 trillion (S$5.8 trillion) in business value, equivalent to 14 per cent of Asia Pacific’s GDP in 2019.

Doing so can also potentially create 232 million jobs annually in Asia Pacific by 2030, while transforming the systems from a net-negative to net-positive impact on nature.

Solutions to galvanise the investment

These opportunities will require an annual investment of US$1.1 trillion (S$1.5 trillion).

Though substantial, this is only a fraction of the US$31.1 trillion (S$42.2 trillion) announced by the Asian Development Bank’s 45 member countries to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report also identified the key challenges of implementing these nature-positive business models, and proposed a range of innovative solutions to overcome them in the coming decade.

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Top image via Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).