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.
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"It's very obvious when a cyclone hits you…. It's much harder for the collective consciousness to grapple with the idea that there is a changing pattern of disease in a city," says Ashvin Dayal, managing director in Asia for the New York-based Rockefeller Foundation, which is funding adaptation projects in six cities in Vietnam and India as part of a five-year, $70 million program.Skip to next paragraph
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Scientists generally agree that global temperatures will continue to rise, even if efforts to cap greenhouse-gas emissions bear fruit. But forecasting exact temperatures and how they affect various ecosystems is complex. Moreover, climatologists say that monsoon patterns are equally, if not more, crucial to farmers in regions like Southeast Asia.
The ADB predicts that Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam will face drier conditions over the next two to three decades, before the pattern reverses mid-century and brings more rainfall. By contrast, the Philippines should expect increasing precipitation. Using a 1990 baseline and a high-emissions scenario, annual temperatures in the four countries by 2100 could rise by 4.8 degrees C., as hot seasons become even hotter, putting greater stress on water resources.
Perhaps the biggest single negative impact could be on rice output. Thailand and Vietnam, which are among the world's largest rice exporters, face declining yields if rainfall patterns shift and low-lying fields are inundated by sea water. Another factor is crop pests that may emerge under new climatic conditions.
But while Southeast Asia is a victim of climate change, it also contributes to the problem by producing greenhouse gases that accounted for 12 percent of global emissions in 2000. That puts the onus on governments to invest in more efficient energy usage and switch to gas and renewable sources, says Zhuang Juzhong, assistant chief economist for the ADB.
By far the biggest polluter in the region is its forestry sector, however, in contrast to energy-derived emissions in rich countries like the United States. This stems from the logging of primary forests and of carbon-rich peat land, practices that have vaulted Indonesia into the top rung of carbon emitters. A boom in palm-oil exports has spurred countries to clear more tropical forests. Environmental campaigners have lobbied for a carbon-trading program that would reward countries for safeguarding their forests. A United Nations conference in December in Copenhagen is expected to incorporate this and other proposals into a new accord on curbing carbon emissions.
Some of these proposals may clash with the development goals of poor countries like Indonesia, particularly during a global downturn. But governments need to factor climate change into their stimulus plans while making sure that people living in vulnerable areas are part of the debate, says Emil Salim, a former environment minister in Indonesia.
"It's poverty alleviation first, coping with unemployment first," he told an ADB press conference, "before you talk about climate change."