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Climate change: Southeast Asia's preparation falls short

The Asian Development Bank says the cost of inaction could be severe for the region's agrarian-based economies and rapidly growing coastal cities.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 28, 2009

Two farmers carry buckets of water across their dry paddy in southeast China. Agrarian-based economies face huge losses from failed crops, the Asian Development Bank said Monday.

Jiang Kehong/Xinhua/AP/File


Bangkok, Thailand

Facing rising sea levels, extreme weather patterns, and lower crop yields, countries in Southeast Asia are slowly waking up to the impact of climate change. Coastal towns in Vietnam are strengthening their sea walls. Communities in Thailand are replanting degraded mangroves. Forest practices are being overhauled in the Philippines.

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But economists warn that these reactive efforts don't go far enough to tackle the threat to agrarian-based economies, which face potentially huge losses from failed crops and disaster relief. Far better to invest now, they argue, in adapting to more volatile weather before the full impact crashes through the region.

"Each government must realize that this investment is much cheaper now than later. They must realize this," says Tae Yong Jung, co-author of a new report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on the economic impact of climate change in the region.

Such investments would include climate-proofed infrastructure, energy-efficient industry, and forest-fire protection systems. Governments must also jointly safeguard common resources like rivers and cooperate on controlling disease outbreaks and managing disaster relief, the report advises.

Southeast Asia is seen as highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change because of its reliance on forestry and agriculture, which employs 43 percent of the workforce, and the concentration of large populations along exposed coastlines and rivers. Tens of millions of people live in fast-growing cities along the coast.

Under a scenario where global emissions continue to rise, the ADB predicts that sea levels could rise by 70 centimeters (27 inches) by the end of this century in a region where four in five people live within 65 miles of the coast.

Using models based on Britain's 2006 Stern Review, the ADB predicts that the cost of inaction on climate change could reach 6.7 percent of economic output by 2100 in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. This outstrips a global loss of 2.6 percent using the same scenario. It includes potential losses from weather events like typhoons and floods, as well as the cost of relocating millions of vulnerable people.

A warmer climate also poses unexpected challenges to health authorities, as the peak period for mosquito-borne diseases is extended. For vulnerable communities, shifts in such outbreaks go hand in hand with increased flooding, violent storms, and other climate-driven threats.