Raise Your Voice, Not the Sea Level

Human activities are causing unprecedented changes in the Earth's climate. The impacts are already plain to see: floods and droughts, volatile food prices, and increased vulnerability for the poor. On World Environment Day 2014 we look at how climate change is affecting vulnerable coastal communities across Asia and the Pacific and what can be done to mitigate its impact.

Date: 05 June 2014

  • Which countries in Asia and the Pacific are most affected by rising sea levels?
  • What can be done to protect coastal communities from the effects of climate change?
  • Are government doing enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?


Giovanni: Hello and welcome to today's ADB live online chat "Raise Your Voice, Not the Sea Level".

My name is Giovanni Verlini, from ADB's Department of External Relations. I will be moderating this event.

With me in our offices in Manila is Nessim Ahmed, Director of ADB's Environment and Social Safeguards Division, and concurrently Environment Practice Leader and Chair of ADB's Community of Practice on Environment.

Nessim Ahmad: Hello everyone and happy world environment day from Manila!

Giovanni: Joining us from Shanghai is Kaveh Zahedi, Regional Director and Representative for Asia and the Pacific of the United Nations Environment Programme, known as UNEP.

Kaveh Zahedi: Hello everyone. Happy World Environment Day. Looking forward to our chat!

Giovanni: Today, 5 June, as you all know, the international community observes World Environment Day. This year's theme is climate change and its effects on small island states. The very apt slogan for this year's event is "Raise Your Voice, Not the Sea Level", which is a powerful call to action for us all.

The impacts of climate change are already plain to see across Asia and the Pacific: rising sea levels, floods and droughts, volatile food prices, and increased vulnerability for the poor. What can be done to mitigate them?

Today's live chat is an opportunity for asking this and many other questions to our experts. So without further ado, I am delighted to open the discussion to our online community.

We just received a question from Oliver in Mumbai: Which countries in Asia and the Pacific are most affected by rising sea levels?

Nessim Ahmad: The Center for Global Development reports that seven out of the world's most vulnerable to rising sea levels are in Asia. These are Bangladesh, People's Republic of China, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and Viet Nam.

Kaveh Zahedi: All small island developing states including the Pacific island countries - the focus of the World Environment Day campaign - as well as countries with low-lying coastal areas (for example, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Viet Nam) and large cities located in the coastal region (example, Ho Chi Minh, Manila, Bombay, Bangkok, Jakarta, Karachi, Shanghai, Tokyo). Mega deltas with large floodplain are also highly vulnerable such as the Mekong Delta and the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghana etc.

Alex: Hi! What are the causes of current global sea level rise?

Nessim Ahmad: Hi Alex, sea level rise is linked to at least three primary factors, all induced by global climate change: (i) thermal expansion; (ii) melting of glaciers and polar ice caps; (iii) ice loss from Greenland and West Antartica

Kaybee (Manila): Good afternoon, gentlemen. Happy World Environment Day! Most studies that are published focus on the effects of sea-level rise in the Pacific islands. Are there reported effects of sea-level rise in the island countries of the Maldives and Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean and how they are coping or preparing? Thanks.

Donald (ADB-SLRM): Aren't countries like Maldives and Sri Lanka vulnerable?

Kaveh Zahedi: Dear Kaybee, dear Donald. Sea level rise will affect all small island developing states. So Maldives, Sri Lanka and all Pacific SIDS need to respond. They need to build resilience, including by investing in maintenance and restoration of coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, as well as by investing in climate proofing infrastructure. This of course requires global finance and technology transfer at a much higher scale than has been available to date.

Roger: How does ADB promote climate-resilient development? Does ADB include disaster risk reduction and climate change themes (mitigation, adaptation, resilience) into programs and projects, or is there a separate division that has unique programs and projects specific to vulnerability risk assessments (akin to the World Bank's GFDRR program) and programs on how to implement climate change mitigation projects with governments and private sector at the local level? (i.e., clean energy, sustainable transport, managing land use and forests for carbon sequestration, etc.)

Nessim Ahmad: Hi Roger - we are promoting climate resilient development in a number of ways... Working with countries to mainstream climate adaptation in national development plans and sector road maps, climate proofing critical infrastructure at risk, and mobilizing climate finance to name a few.

Guest: It seems that the larger countries and economies have the most impact on the environment, yet it is the smaller countries that experience the effects the most. Given the limits of what they can influence, what can the smaller countries do about this?

Kaveh Zahedi: Historically some of the more developed countries have contributed most to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But if we want to keep temperature increase to less than two degrees we will need mitigation action across all countries. Smaller countries, like the Maldives mentioned in an earlier question, have pledged to go carbon neutral which while not making a large difference to global emissions is an inspiration to the rest of the family of countries. But the major emitters will all need to help in closing the gap between current commitments and what is needed to keep temperature rise below two degrees.

Christine: What do you think about Obama's plan to reduce coal pollution by 30%? Is that realistic? Will it be enough?

Nessim Ahmad: Hi Christine, there has been some good news in the last few days. The proposed regulation by USEPA announced on 2 June will help reduce an important source of GHGs, but in a flexible way. The People's Republic of China announced that the country will launch a national carbon market starting in 2018, based on the six regional carbon markets that were launched as pilots. These are all steps in the right direction.

Kaylee: Since rising sea levels pose an imminent danger to coastal communities, is relocation included in the mitigation measures? If so, when should such a measure be implemented?

Guest: How can fisherfolk and coastal communities protect their homes and livelihoods from rising sea levels?

Kaveh Zahedi: Dear Kaylee, dear "Guest", sea level rise will increase coastal flooding and erosion, increase salt water intrusion into coastal aquifers and make coastal communities more vulnerable. Relocation is one measure - communities have already been displaced for example in Vanuatu. Ecosystem restoration, including of mangroves is another option. The building of sea walls and hard infrastructure is another. But we cannot keep building higher walls to protect coastal communities. And that is why we need a global deal to keep temperature increase below 2 degrees Centigrade.

Roger: How will climate change further poverty and slow economic growth?

Nessim Ahmad: Hi Roger, ADB published a study on the economics of climate change in the Pacific last year which looks at the impacts among these small island states. Based on the models and assumptions used, it concluded that - under a business as usual scenario – climate change could cost the Pacific region between 2.2-3.5% of Gross Domestic Product by 2050 and as much as 12.7% by 2100. And the poor and vulnerable will be hit hardest because they have the least ability to cope.

Jeff: What do you think is the role of the youth in mitigating the effects of climate change?

Kaveh Zahedi: All have a role to play in finding solutions. I am at the International Student Conference on Environment and Development at Tongji University, Shanghai. It is clear that young people are highly motivated to provide the technological solutions, to design the policies and take the actions needed. Some of these actions are about personal choices, about sustainable consumption and about resource efficiency. As the Secretary General of the UN said this week, young people are leaders of today. They want and deserve a real voice in shaping the policies that affect their lives.

Roger: What does climate proofing infrastructure mean?

Nessim Ahmad: Climate change impacts can undermine the longevity of infrastructure - "climate proofing" is shorthand for looking at locational choices or design features that will allow infrastructure to withstand impacts such as increased flooding, storm surges, etc. At ADB we have instituted a climate risk screening process to ensure that climate risks are taken into account in infrastructure development.

Guest: Hi Kaveh and Nessim, Happy World Environment Day, What is the most cost-effective way of tackling the consequences of climate change?

Kaveh Zahedi: The most cost-effective way of addressing the consequence of climate change are: first address the problem at source meaning raise mitigation ambition and enhance action on mitigation otherwise adaptation will become increasingly costly and increasingly difficult. Second, integrate adaptation actions into development or in other words mainstreaming climate change into development planning and implementation, building resilience of key economic sectors (including agriculture) and coastal infrastructure. And third, make interventions people centered targeting the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.

Nessim Ahmad: An important message coming out of the IPCC 5th assessment WG2 report is that there are limits to adaptation and the emphasis must be on climate mitigation through decarbonizing development. But looking at adaptation, there are low hanging fruit in the form of "no-regret" or "low-regret" options. This means doing things that make sense even without climate change - like protecting mangroves along coastal areas which will preserve a variety of ecological and economic values (e.g fisheries) but will also protect against increased and more storm surges, etc.

Giovanni: May I remind our audience that we have ten minutes left before we conclude the live chat. Please send your questions now.

Giovanni: Another question from Roger:

Roger: How does ADB work with private sector to encourage low-cost technology for climate change mitigation and resilience?

Nessim Ahmad: Hi Roger again, ADB has pursued private sector financing in a variety of ways. For example, we are seeking to catalyze large amounts from institutional investors through a $1 billion Climate Public-Private Partnership Fund. With UNEP and GEF we are working on a climate technology and finance network to look at how to remove barriers to adoption of low carbon climate resilient technologies and catalyze finance. Our private sector operations are also promoting a large number of renewable energy deals across the region.

Christine: Will the start of the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet last month mean that projected sea level rise will happen sooner than expected?

Kaveh Zahedi: Over last century, global mean sea level rose at a rate between 1.3 to 1.7 mm/year and over last two decades rate was between 2.8 to 3.6 mm/year. In the tropical western Pacific where a large number of small island communities exist, rate is up to four times higher than the global average (approximately 12 mm/year). The collapse of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, like exceeding 400ppm of carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere, have both happened well in advance of scientific projections. So sea level rise will not necessarily happen sooner but certainly faster.

Giovanni: From Mary in Singapore: How can ADB and UNEP work together to promote environmental sustainability and address climate change issues across Asia and the Pacific?

Kaveh Zahedi: UNEP and ADB have a long history of cooperation. Just last month we met to agree on the next chapter. Areas of strengthened cooperation include promoting climate technology and financing; sharing of adaptation expertise and experiences through the Asia Pacific Adaptation Network; strengthening support to countries, including the People's Republic of China, on air pollution; working on ecosystem valuation including in the greater Mekong Region; and improving outreach on the critical sustainability issues in Asia and the Pacific - something we are busy doing today!

Nessim Ahmad: Hi Mary - UNEP and ADB have had a longstanding relationship since the 1980s, and we have a corporate memorandum of understanding for collaboration on a wide range of fronts. In the preparations for Rio+20 we supported the consultations in the region and produced an influential report on green growth, resilience and resources which fed into the policy discussions. We are collaborating on knowledge networks, capacity development, and joint programs on technology transfer. We are currently exploring how to ramp up our partnership, and I really look forward to that.

Giovanni: Dear all, the live online chat is now closed. We thank you for your participation.

We hope you found this live online chat interesting and stimulating.

I would also like to thank Nessim and Kaveh who took the time to answer so many interesting questions – with so many interesting answers. Unfortunately, it was not possible for them to answer all the questions we received.

Nessim Ahmad: Thanks everyone for a good chat, let's get back to work!

Kaveh Zahedi: Thank you Nessim, thank you everyone. Happy World Environment Day. It is your day. Raise your voice!

Giovanni: Please email any other questions you might have to me at gverlini@adb.org and I will pass them on to our experts.

Thank you again for your participation.

To the next one!

Kaveh Zahedi
Kaveh Zahedi is Regional Director and Representative for Asia and the Pacific of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), where he oversees work in the region including on climate change, ecosystem management and governance. Prior to this, Mr Zahedi was Deputy Director of UNEP's Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE), working on green economy, resource efficiency, energy, chemicals, ozone and waste. He holds a Masters degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, USA, and a Bachelor's degree in Economics and Geography from University College London.
Nessim Ahmad
Nessim Ahmad is Director of ADB's Environment and Social Safeguards Division, and concurrently Environment Practice Leader and Chair of ADB’s Community of Practice on Environment. Mr. Ahmad is responsible for ADB's safeguard policy compliance, mainstreaming ADB’s environment agenda in operations, and promoting ADB’s climate change adaptation programs. Prior to joining ADB, Mr. Ahmad was at the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development. Mr. Ahmad studied at Aberdeen and Cornell Universities and holds degrees in economics and geography.