In brief

In brief

  • Leading Asia Pacific cities are some of the world’s most livable places, thanks to coordinated planning and policy innovations.
  • However, climate change and inequality continue to threaten Asian cities push for economic and social progress.
  • Our report outlines best practices from Asia Pacific cities for a more inclusive and sustainable urban living model that other regions can apply.


The rise of Asia Pacific cities

The Asia Pacific region has enjoyed decades of economic growth, and at the heart of the region’s economic transformation is rapid urbanisation (see Figure 1). Asia Pacific also stands tall in the realm of urbanisation – eight of the 10 top performers in the Economist Intelligent Unit’s 2021 Global Liveability Index come from the region.

Figure 1. Share of the population living in urban areas in Asia-Pacific countries, 1950 to 2050.

A chart showcasing the share of the population living in urban areas in Asia-Pacific countries, from 1950 to 2050. The number of people living in Asia-Pacific is expected to keep rising, although less rapidly, over the next 30 years.

However, these locales tend to be disaster prone—putting people at high risk from extreme weather events and harsh living environments. A ranking of the world’s 100 cities most vulnerable to climate change in 2021 found 99 of them in Asia. Furthermore, these rising economic hubs drive higher levels of inequality, with large segments of urban poor lacking access to essential services.

Climate vulnerability and inequality highlight the need for an Asia Pacific urban transformation that will ensure a resilient and equitable future for its citizens. As such, leading cities across the region have started taking steps to respond to social, economic and ecological challenges. These mega-cities are leading the way with bold initiatives to provide green public infrastructure and tech-enabled citizen-led experiences. Much work remains to be done, but the blueprint to building a sustainable, inclusive and smart city of the future is already taking shape in the region.

Tomorrow’s cities start with smart sustainability

Today, companies in Asia Pacific are taking action to reduce their carbon footprint (Figure 2) and around one-third develop decarbonisation programs with strategic objectives and monitoring. As leading Asia Pacific cities transform into sustainable metropolises, the efforts focus on two areas—buildings and mobility.

Figure 2. Sustainable real estate: how corporations in Asia Pacific are working to lower their carbon footprint (2021 survey).

A figure showcasing how Asia Pacific’s corporations are working to lower their carbon footprint. Two-thirds of them are reducing carbon emissions as part of their sustainability strategy.

Built for tomorrow

Buildings and construction account for 39 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, and Asia’s towering structures emit a higher percentage of greenhouse gases than the global average. Driven by a combination of regulatory tightening, public mindset shifts, environmental and social pressures, steps are being taken to rethink construction methods from the ground up and reduce operational emissions coming from buildings. Various old buildings in Hong Kong, Seoul and Sydney have been retrofitted to reduce energy consumption.

Cities across Asia Pacific are also reimagining the environment in which urban developments are constructed in a bid to lower ecological impact and improve resilience. For example, China has become a test bed for “sponge city” pilots, which reintroduce natural structures including open green space, vegetation on rooftops, porous road and pavement materials, and the use of urban wetlands.

Sustainable mobility for all

The rising urban population in various Asian countries highlights the need for more sustainable mobility solutions, which will also decrease carbon emissions. To meet this demand, some Asia Pacific cities now feature redesigned neighborhoods with hyper-local accessibility using data.

Home to some of the world’s most sophisticated public transport systems, these highly urbanised hubs also promote active mobility modes, such as cycling in Manila and Taipei. Plus, we see more walkable suburbs being built in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Singapore, which are supported by multi-modal commuting measures to facilitate greener modes of mobility.

Technology continues to play a central role in tackling sustainability and livability challenges. In the Asia Pacific region, we see many uses of AI, cloud computing and data analytics in enabling circular economy supply chains, optimising traffic flow, and enhancing disaster tracking and response actions. Many cities also carried out their pledge to electrify their transport systems. Shenzhen’s fleet of more than 16,000 electric buses has reduced fuel consumption by more than 95 percent. Autonomous vehicles also took the spotlight at the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics, where driverless shuttles ferried athletes and staff around different venues.

"A smart city strategy needs to be anchored in what experiences you want to enable in all your stakeholders. You can think about the commercial models, but they must be anchored in experience."

– Jurgen Coppens, Managing Director – Strategy

Technology made for people-centric progress

Many Asia Pacific cities now use technology to address the gaps in service provision and support for the underserved urban communities. Some of these technologies come from start-ups that help people gain equal access to essential needs ranging from physical security, employment opportunities to digital healthcare.

For example, consumer apps provide new offerings that cater to vulnerable groups, such as female-specific ride sharing in the Pakistani city of Sialkot and crowdsourcing data to facilitate and build safer cities for women in India.

More advanced technologies also pave the way for quicker access to quality healthcare services, especially for Asia Pacific countries with an ageing population. In South Korea, a new telco service enables the elderly to request real-time emergency response with a voice-activated smart speaker. Senior citizens in Thailand receive wearable devices that track their activity and provide more-targeted care.

Bringing the future of cities to life

With these urban transformation milestones, the dream of future cities that promote sustainable progress and are inclusive by design comes closer to reality. To speed up that evolution, Asia Pacific cities need to actively learn, share ideas and collaborate with other urban hubs around the globe. The collaborative spirit and keeping an open mindset are key to how cities will evolve differently towards tomorrow.

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