Despite the impacts of COVID-19, climate action in Asia is accelerating rapidly. Some of the largest emitters in the region have set Net Zero targets and businesses are following suit. This is a welcome trend given Asia’s growing number of big multinationals – and the fact that it is home to the supply chains of various global brands. How is the region responding to the climate challenge and what can we expect from 2021?

2020 will be remembered as a milestone year for climate action in Asia. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, an increasing number of countries and companies are accelerating their carbon reduction and Net Zero plans to address the threat of a climate breakdown.

Governments step up

China injected some much needed momentum into global climate politics in September when it committed to reach carbon neutrality by 2060. This announcement by the world’s largest emitter is a cause for celebration, and a possible tipping point in the region – Japan and South Korea quickly followed suit with their own announcements, with both pledging zero emissions by 2050. 

China, Japan and South Korea combined are responsible for over a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. While there is still a long road ahead to deliver the promised reductions, these commitments are powerful. They will also put pressure on others in the region to do the same, including other top-10 emitters India and Indonesia, and major trading partner Australia, which has so far resisted the Net Zero wave.

Corporate climate action accelerates

Climate leaders across a broad range of industries are building their brand and their resilience by committing to global programmes such as RE100 and the Science Based Targets Initiative. Following the worldwide trend, Net Zero commitments are also on the rise

Some of the most exciting 2020 climate action commitments by companies across Asia include Mitsubishi Electric Corp, Petronas, FamilyMart and Charoen Pokphand Group, among others.

Image - Corporate Climate Commitments Infographic Asia 2020 - South Pole

Graph showing Corporate Climate Action Commitments in 2020

Momentum into 2021

The second half of this year has been a flurry of pledges from countries and companies alike, setting the bar high for action in 2021. Companies are also being put to the test as COVID-19 continues to affect supply chains across the globe – a proxy of the type of disruption businesses can expect from climate change-induced calamity. After all, a business is only as good (and as protected) as its suppliers.

The demand for more climate action from investors, consumers and employees is only likely to increase, and businesses in Asia will continue to feel the pressure. Reducing emissions is quickly becoming a “must do", especially for Asian companies supplying global brands, with renewable energy being a popular first step.

With 60% of global growth expected to come from Asia in the next decade and some of the worst disasters already affecting the region, the stakes are high for governments, businesses and, of course, the people that call this region home. The World Economic Forum's decision to convene a Special Annual Meeting in Singapore in May 2021 could give regional climate leaders a platform to demonstrate their action to the rest of the world.

Although climate action in Asia is gaining momentum, many large organisations have yet to step up to the challenge. Instead of getting left behind, they should sprint ahead: the Net Zero commitments from countries will soon be catapulted into laws. It is only smart for companies to embed a sustainability transformation into their growth strategy before policy demands it. 2021 will be the year for Asian and Asia-based companies to get ahead of the pack and start their climate journey towards Net Zero.

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