The global net-zero transition is most often envisioned and depicted with massive solar power plants, large-scale wind farms, and the replanting of millions of trees. While these are obvious and important components in the sustainability drive, the investments needed to realize them are capital-intensive with long timelines, making it out of reach for most developing nations in the Global South.
The conundrum of transforming their economies sustainably without hindering growth is at the foundation of all debates, especially in Southeast Asia. Leveraging technology to modernize existing infrastructure and sectors, making them more resilient and efficient, simultaneously presents a more realistic pathway to lower emissions and significant economic opportunities. No other industry exhibits this potential than the mobility sector.
Globally, transport-related emissions are responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This issue is an especially pertinent problem in Southeast Asia. Urban centers already host millions of families using old, polluting vehicles with some of the worst congestion in the world. Moreover, rapid urbanization is only worsening the already highly polluted environments – 6 of the ten cities with the worst air pollution in the world are in Southeast Asia.
Can we resolve issues that make sense from an economic and environmental standpoint?
Leaders in the public and private sectors have understood that resolving this issue is not only an environmental problem but an economic one. Air pollution has severe adverse health effects, hindering the future viability of the workforce, and the time lost in congestion hurts the region’s productivity and economic prospects. Studies estimate the region loses approximately two to five percent of GDP annually due to heavy traffic.
When people think of modernizing mobility, they often think of electric vehicles (EVs). However, while EVs have a role, many other cost-effective, innovative solutions exist. Over the last few years, countries and cities across Southeast Asia have implemented a wide range of these solutions.
The Jakarta’ Safe Routes’ project is a good example. Government agencies, public institutions, and residents collaborated on a temporary road intervention. They painted a pedestrian path on shared streets to improve safety and accessibility for pedestrians to get to school, home, and a mass transit station. This low-cost pilot successfully changed behaviors – traffic was calmer than previously, and 98% of students who walked from their homes used the painted path.
How can AI help to plan transport in a way that is sustainable and economically viable?
The evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) is also enabling decision-makers to employ technologies in managing and planning integrated transport systems. Singapore is leveraging such technology to resolve the ‘last kilometer’ connectivity problems, ensuring that the rush-hour commute should take at most 20 minutes for any citizen and for roughly 80 percent of all households to live within a 10-minute walk of a train station. Integrating AI-based urban mobility solutions is transforming how people move in Southeast Asia. AI-based solutions are quickly becoming adopted across the region.
Last year, Thailand’s leading courier company, Thailand Post Distribution, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Singapore-based smart mobility firm, SWAT Mobility, to jointly research the use of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning in delivery load and route optimization to drive sustainability. Such a solution which is not only aimed at putting in place a more efficient planning process that will increase productivity and customer satisfaction but will also reduce the number of vehicles used in these deliveries is emblematic of the type of innovation that is driving Asia into the future.
This week, from 17-19 May, Future Mobility Asia, the region’s most comprehensive mobility forum showcasing the latest clean mobility concepts, solutions, technologies, and innovations, will take place in Bangkok. It is an invaluable opportunity for investors and policy experts to understand how Asia places the mobility sector at the heart of its energy transition strategy and see how they can participate and learn from the innovators. To register for the Future Mobility Asia event, please click here.
The future of the mobility industry in Asia is emblematic of how the region is responding to the challenges of the energy transition, prioritizing simple and cost-effective solutions while leveraging the latest technology to develop data-driven integrated transport systems that fundamentally improve their economic prospects having the benefits of being environmentally sustainable.
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