Global Trends by Martin Khor

9 April 2007

Asia at risk from climate change

Last week came a second authoritative report on climate change, this time showing the horrific effects on Asia and other regions.  It is time for complacency to give way to quick action to save future generations from climate catastrophe.


Asia will be one of the regions worst affected by climate change, whose effects are already being felt.

Billions of people will be at increased risk of flooding in the Asian mega-deltas, where many of Asia’s cities as well as highly-populated coastal areas are located.

This is one of four areas in the world considered to be the most vulnerable to climate change, according to Dr Martin Parry, co-chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The other three areas are the arctic, where temperatures are rising fast and ice is melting; sub-Saharan Africa, where dry areas are forecast to get dryer; and small islands because of their inherent lack of capacity to adapt.

The IPCC launched its second 2007 report in Brussels last Friday.  Authored by hundreds of environmental scientists and endorsed by over a hundred governments, the report’s main theme is that the poorest people in the world will be the hardest hit by the effects of climate change.

Details on how different continents and regions are already being affected, and will be affected even worse in future, are provided.

They show that developing countries will suffer the most.  In some ways climate change will even have positive effects on some developed regions.

This is an important finding because until now many governments in developing countries have not taken the climate threat seriously. They think it is a problem that mainly affects the developed countries, or that it is something that will occur in the far-away future.  Or worse, that climate change was something dreamt of by the West to curb the energy use and economic growth of the developing countries.

Last week’s IPCC report should dispel at least the first two of these assumptions.  The effects are already being felt now.

Moreover, the regions most affected are in the developing world.  In Asia, says the IPCC  report, the following will be the likely impacts of climate change:

  • Coastal areas, especially heavily-populated mega delta regions in South, East and Southeast Asia, will be at greatest risk due to increased flooding from the sea and in some mega-deltas flooding from the rivers.
  • Freshwater availability in Central, South and Southeast Asia is projected to decrease due to climate change which (along with population growth and increasing demand because of higher standards of living) could affect more than half a billion  people by the 2050s.
  • Glacier melt in the Himalayas is projected to increase flooding, and rock avalanches from destabilized slopes and affect water supplies in the next two or three decades.  This will be followed by decreased river flows as the glaciers recede.

Since Malaysia is made up of so much coastal areas, the IPCC report needs to be taken especially seriously.  On the threat of flooding, it adds that:  “Many millions more people are projected to be flooded every year due to sea-level rise by the 2080s.

“Those densely-populated and low-lying areas where adaptive capacity is low and which already face tropical storms or low coastal subsidence are especially at risk.  The numbers affected will be largest in the mega-deltas of Asia and Africa while small islands are especially vulnerable.”

Also, coastal wetlands including salt marshes and mangroves will be negatively affected by sea-level rise.

In interviews at the report launching, IPCC officials warned that even if measures are now taken to combat gas emissions that cause climate change, the effects of climate change will be felt for many decades ahead because of the polluting activities of the past 200 years.

Since the developed countries have been mainly responsible for the past and present “Greenhouse gas” emissions, they must take on the bulk of the actions to curb the present and future emissions. 

So far they have failed to meet even the inadequate targets set up under the Kyoto Protocol.  And the developing countries have until now not been adamant that the rich countries take effective action.

This complacency on all sides should now end, since the science of climate change has become clearer with the IPCC reports.  In May, the IPCC will release its third report, this time focusing on the actions that can and must be taken.

It is time for citizens all over the world to pay close attention and to demand action from their leaders.  After all, it is our children and their children who will bear much of the burden of the climate crisis.  And we shouldn’t have them blame us for not doing enough.