In our October blog poll, we asked readers what they believed was the biggest climate change threat to people in Asia and the Pacific, the world’s most vulnerable region to the effects of climate change.
Just a few weeks before the crucial COP21 climate talks are scheduled to begin in Paris, much of the global attention is focused on Asia, home to the world’s top polluter (People’s Republic of China); the disaster-prone archipelagos of Indonesia and the Philippines; low-lying nations threatened by sea-level rise such as Bangladesh, the Maldives, and several Pacific island nations; and arid states suffering periodic droughts like parts of India and the former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
The GermanWatch Global Climate Risk Index 2015 notes that 6 of the 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change—Cambodia, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Lao PDR, and Viet Nam—are in Asia, which by 2030 will also account for 20 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, or 46% of the world’s total.
To mitigate the effects of climate change warming and help developing Asia adapt to the effects of climate change, ADB recently announced that it would double its annual climate financing to $6 billion by 2020. Needs remain huge, though, with adaptation costs alone estimated at $40 billion per year. On top of that, natural hazards inflict heavy losses on Asian countries, averaging $63.1 billion each year, according to the OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database.
It is therefore no surprise that 44% of our readers see natural hazards as the top climate-induced threat in the region. In the past decade alone, the region has suffered calamities of biblical proportions like Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest typhoon ever to hit land, which killed over 6,000 people in the Philippines in late 2013.
The death toll, though, is just the tip of the iceberg of the impact of climate extreme events on developing Asia. Between 1975 and 2014, calamities cost Asia and the Pacific over $1.5 trillion in economic losses, 44% of the world’s total and far higher than the region’s share in global gross domestic product. These costs make it harder for government to finance preparation against the impacts of future natural hazards, which are expected to become even more frequent and intense as weather becomes more unpredictable.
Indeed, 33% of respondents to the poll said changing weather patterns were the biggest threat climate change poses to Asia and the Pacific. This year is already the hottest on record thanks to the current El Niño event, which has sparked deadly heat waves in India and Pakistan, widespread drought in several countries in Southeast Asia, and could lead to a food security crisis in Papua New Guinea and Pacific island nations if warming ocean temperatures don’t start subsiding by next year.
During the last El Niño in 2010, prices of staple foodstuffs like rice rose by as much as 45%. And today, many poor people continue to suffer food and water shortages – even in upper middle-income economies such as Thailand. With over 60% of the region's population working in agriculture, fisheries, and forestry, unpredictable weather patterns are a very serious concern.
For 12% of our readers, sea level rise is the most serious climate concern, and this is certainly the major preoccupation in low-lying islands like the Maldives and Tuvalu, or in the low-lying areas of countries like Bangladesh and Viet Nam. Rapidly increasing water salinity is destroying crops in coastal areas and increasingly encroaching farther inland. A further 6% of respondents said higher temperatures were the main threat, while another 5% pointed to acidic oceans, which damage corals and precious fish stocks that depend on them.
Clearly the impacts of climate change are both widespread and vary country by country and community by community. We need urgent action in Paris on a legally binding agreement to reduce carbon emissions but also adequate financing to ensure developing countries in Asia and beyond can adapt in the way that best suits them.