It has been a year of devastation and wreckage for the region, and a year of warning about thedangers of climate change.
The impending cost of inaction could be catastrophic for both human beings and economies,experts say.
In 2011, the Asia-Pacific region was hit by some of the worst natural disasters in living memory,leaving thousands of people dead, millions homeless and wreaking havoc on domestic economies.
AUSTRALIA: With one foot injured, a man makes it to his car so he can drive out of floodwaters at DepotHill in Rockhampton, Queensland, on Jan 6. Daniel Munoz / Reuters
Floods swamped large parts of eastern Australia and Thailand, while Japan and New Zealandexperienced their worst earthquakes ever. Prolonged droughts and floods caused havoc in centraland eastern China, with the Yangtze River basin suffering from both drought and severe flood.
Natural disasters in 2010 caused $109 billion in economic damage – three times more than in 2009,according to the United Nations. This year that figure will be much higher.
Damage from the earthquake and tsunami that destroyed much of northeast Japan in March cost inexcess of $300 billion. The Australian floods in January cost the economy around $30 billion, andthe February earthquake that destroyed much of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island left adamage bill topping $20 billion.
The full economic cost of the recent floods in Thailand is still being calculated, but it is expected torun into the tens of billions of dollars.
It will get worse
While Asia is nostranger to naturaldisasters, scientists saymore extreme weather-related disasters are instore – droughts, floodsand typhoons – owing toclimate change astemperatures increase.
At a recent seminar onmigration and globalwarming held at theAsian DevelopmentBank’s (ADB)headquarters in Manila,delegates were told that”the worst is yet tocome”. The UnitedNations and the WorldBank have echoedsimilar warnings.
If climate change is notaddressed now, theADB said, it will severelyhit the region’sdevelopment and affectprograms to cut poverty.
“Global warming is likely to cause rice yield potential to decline by up to 50 percent on average by2100, compared to 1990, in Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, and a large part ofthe dominant forest or woodland could be replaced by tropical savanna and shrub with low or nocarbon sequestration potential,” an ADB study said.
It warned that the potential economic cost of inaction will be huge.
“If the world continues ‘business-as-usual’ emissions trends, the cost to these countries each yearcould equal a loss of 6.7 percent of their combined gross domestic product by 2100, more thantwice the world average,” the ADB said.
Dennis de la Torre of the Philippines Climate Commission said the country can expect meantemperatures “in all areas of the Philippines to rise by 0.9 degrees C to 1.1 degrees C in 2020 andby 1.8 to 2.2 degrees C by 2050”. The Philippines is often referred to as Typhoon Alley because itis the first country in Southeast Asia to be hit by typhoons and other tropical storms as they barrelin over the Pacific Ocean. The country is poor, so the impact on the livelihood of millions each yearis significant.
“The Philippines, as an archipelagic nation, is one of the most vulnerable to climate change. Thecountry ranks No 1 in the world in terms of vulnerability to typhoons and third in terms of peopleexposed to such seasonal events,” De la Torre said.
He quoted a recent Climate Change Vulnerability Index, released by the global risk advisory firmMaple-croft, as saying the Philippines ranks sixth among 16 countries in the world as extremelyvulnerable to climate change.
The ADB, in a study on climate change and itsimpact on Southeast Asia, has said severalfactors contribute to the region’s susceptibility toclimate change.
Southeast Asia’s 563 million people, who relyheavily on farming, are concentrated alongcoastlines that total 173,251 kilometers. Anincrease in extreme weather and forest firesarising from climate change jeopardizes vitalexport industries that account for more than 40percent of employment and about 11 percent ofGDP.
“The region is highly vulnerable to droughts,floods and tropical cyclones associated withwarming. Its high economic dependence onnatural resources and forestry – as one of theworld’s biggest providers of forest products -also puts it at risk,” the ADB study said.
“Rapid economic growth and structural transformation in Southeast Asia helped lift millions out ofextreme poverty in recent decades. But poverty remains high and the poor are the most vulnerableto climate change.”
The ADB said mean temperature increased by 0.1-0.3 degrees C each decade from 1951 to 2000,rainfall trended downward from 1960 to 2000 and sea levels rose 1-3 millimeters a year.
Heat waves, droughts, floods and tropical cyclones have been more intense and frequent, causingextensive damage to property, assets and human life.
Recorded floods and storms have risen dramatically, particularly in the Philippines, increasing fromjust under 20 in the 1960s to nearly 120 by 2000-08, the study said.
It warned that the region is likely to suffer more from climate change than the world average, if noaction is taken. In its projection, the annual mean temperature will rise 4.8 degrees C on average by2100 from 1990.
“Mean sea level is projected to rise by 70 cm during the same period. Indonesia, Thailand andVietnam are expected to experience increasingly drier weather conditions in the next 20 to 30years, although this trend is likely to reverse by the middle of this century,” the study said.
- Steve Fleischli: Top Water-related Impacts of Climate Change (huffingtonpost.com)
- Climate Change: Progress in Durban, but not enough (danielberhane.wordpress.com)
- How To Discuss Climate Change With Your Uncle During The Holidays (huffingtonpost.com)
- Climate Change And Green Governance-Book Review (chimalaya.org)
- Agreement-Tackle Climate Change Impacts In Himalayas (chimalaya.org)
- Why opinion on Climate change is much better than polls suggest (liberalconspiracy.org)
- \For Haiti, climate change is more present fear than horrible imagining (bfreenews.com)
- Nations to effect climate change pact in 2020 (theeastafrican.co.ke)
- Breakthrough at Durban Climate Change Conference (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- A Comic Look At The Climate Change Debate (pinkbananaworld.com)