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Asia’s Wicked Environmental Problems


  • Stephen Howes

    (Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI))

  • Paul Wyrwoll


The developing economies of Asia are confronted by serious environmental problems that threaten to undermine future growth, food security, and regional stability. This study considers four major environmental challenges that policymakers across developing Asia will need to address towards 2030 : water management, air pollution, deforestation and land degradation, and climate change. We argue that these challenges, each unique in their own way, all exhibit the characteristics of “wicked problems†. As developed in the planning literature, and now applied much more broadly, wicked problems are dynamic, complex, encompass many issues and stakeholders, and evade straightforward, lasting solutions. Detailed case studies are presented to illustrate the complexity and significance of Asia’s environmental challenges, and also their nature as wicked problems. The most important implication of this finding is that there will be no easy or universal solutions to environmental problems across Asia. This is a caution against over-optimism and blueprint or formulaic solutions. It is not, however, a counsel for despair. We suggest seven general principles which may be useful across the board. These are : a focus on co-benefits; an emphasis on stakeholder participation; a commitment to scientific research; an emphasis on long-term planning; pricing reform; tackling corruption, in addition to generally bolstering institutional capacity with regard to environmental regulation; and a strengthening of regional approaches and international support.

Suggested Citation

  • Stephen Howes & Paul Wyrwoll, 2012. "Asia’s Wicked Environmental Problems," Governance Working Papers 23289, East Asian Bureau of Economic Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:eab:govern:23289

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kaliappa Kalirajan & VenkatachalamAnbumozhi & Kanhaiya Singh, 2010. "Measuring the Environmental Impacts of Changing Trade Patterns on the Poor," Trade Working Papers 22727, East Asian Bureau of Economic Research.
    2. Bhattacharya, Soma & Cropper, Maureen L., 2010. "Options for Energy Efficiency in India and Barriers to Their Adoption: A Scoping Study," Discussion Papers dp-10-20, Resources For the Future.
    3. Kawai, Masahiro & Wignaraja, Ganeshan, 2008. "Regionalism as an Engine of Multilateralism: A Case for a Single East Asian FTA," Working Papers on Regional Economic Integration 14, Asian Development Bank.
    4. Ryuhei Wakasugi, 2007. "Vertical Intra-Industry Trade and Economic Integration in East Asia," Asian Economic Papers, MIT Press, vol. 6(1), pages 26-39, Winter.
    5. Wignaraja, Ganeshan, 2008. "FDI and Innovation as Drivers of Export Behaviour: Firm-level Evidence from East Asia," MERIT Working Papers 061, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
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    More about this item


    Environmental Problems; Asia; developing economies of Asia; developing Asia;

    JEL classification:

    • O44 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Environment and Growth
    • Q58 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environmental Economics: Government Policy
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • O53 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Asia including Middle East
    • Q28 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Government Policy
    • Q53 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Air Pollution; Water Pollution; Noise; Hazardous Waste; Solid Waste; Recycling

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