Unabated Climate Change: Asean Food Shortages, Overcrowding, Deaths

Unabated Climate Change: Asean Food Shortages, Overcrowding, Deaths
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A recent report by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) forecasts devastating consequences to countries in Asia and the Pacific if climate change goes unabated.

The report finds that should the forecast 6C (about 11F) rise in temperature by 2100 occur under a ‘business-as-usual’ approach, countries in the Asia-Pacific region will experience dramatic changes to their agriculture and fisheries sectors, land and marine biodiversity, domestic and regional security, trade, urban development, migration, and health.

In a worse case scenario the report warns that drastic changes in the region’s weather system may even pose an existential threat to some countries in the region and crush any hope of achieving sustainable and inclusive development.

The report, ‘A Region at Risk: The Human Dimensions of Climate Change in Asia and the Pacific’, found that the rising mean global  temperature is expected to see the region subject to increasing numbers of typhoons and tropical cyclones, while annual rainfall is expected to increase by up to 50 per cent over most land areas in the region.

Coastal and low-lying areas in the region will experience increased risk of flooding, while direct housing damage from tropical cyclones is expected to increase by up to 58 per cent in the Philippines alone; which the report highlights has seven out of the top 25 cities globally most at risk from a one-meter (3.3ft) sea-level rise.

Flooding to Hit Indonesia Hardest

19 of the 25 cities globally most at risk from a one-meter sea-level rise are in Asean
19 of the 25 cities globally most at risk from a one-meter sea-level rise are in Asean John Le Fevre

The report points out that a further 12 of the 25 cities globally most at risk from a one-meter (3.3ft) sea-level rise are in Asean, with three of the top 20 cities globally with the largest growth in annual flood losses between 2005-2050 also in Asean – Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, Jakarta, Indonesia, and Bangkok, Thailand. (See: Preferring to Neither Sink or Swim Jokowi Pulls the Plug on Jakarta: Asean’s Sinking Cities).

Noting that the number of record-breaking rainfall events has already increased significantly over past decades, the report warns that if the global temperature continues to rise the frequency and intensity of heavy rainfall events causing more severe flooding is also likely to increase.

In Asean the highest relative share of population and percentage of economy exposed to floods is found in Cambodia and Vietnam, with the latter’s urban areas the only Asean country among the top ten countries globally to be most impacted by a one-meter sea level rise.

The distinction for the most number of people affected though goes to Indonesia. Some 5.9 million people living in coastal and low-lying areas are expected to be affected annually in 2100.

Food Shortages, Famine

On the agricultural front the report finds that some Asia-Pacific countries, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, could see rice yields decline by up to 50 per cent by 2100 over 1990 levels, resulting in food shortages and a dramatic increase in the number of malnourished children in the region.

Unpredictable weather patterns and changes in temperatures will see food production in the region more difficult and production costs higher.

Sea-level rise will worsen flooding in the Mekong River Delta in southern Vietnam, which, in combination with a reduction in estuarine siltation due to dam building, will result in increasing loss of paddy and farming land.

A four degree Celsius (7.2F) increase in water temperatures will, the report says, result in the collapse of all coral reef systems in the sub-region due to mass coral bleaching. Just a 1.5 Celsius (2.7F) increase, the report warns, is expected to see 89 per cent of coral reefs suffer serious bleaching, severely affecting reef-related fisheries and tourism.

For the some 100 million people who rely on ecosystem services such as coastal protection and food security in the Coral Triangle — a marine region spanning the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste – home to around a third of the global coral stock and 76 per cent of all known coral species, the impact is likely to be significant.

The cumulative loss in value of reef-related fisheries in Southeast Asia for 2000-2050 is estimated at about $57.98 billion under the business-as-usual scenario, some $6 billion of which will occur in 2050.

Using a number of emission scenarios the Coral Triangle’s food provision capacity for coastal communities – who derive more than 35 per cent of their dietary animal protein from reef fish and seafood – is projected to be halved by 2050.

Social Services Overwhelmed, Increased Deaths

Climate change also poses a significant risk to health. Deaths related to vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue are expected to increase, with the World Health Organization (WHO) projecting up to an additional 500 malaria-related deaths in the region per year by the 2030’s.

Intermittent water flow as a result of climate change poses a threat to the energy security of countries which rely extensively on both thermal and hydro power generating
Intermittent water flow as a result of climate change poses a threat to the energy security of countries which rely extensively on both thermal and hydro power generating John Le Fevre

As a result of increased migration brought on by areas becoming uninhabitable, cities will become more crowded overwhelming available social services. Energy supplies could be threatened, particularly in those countries that rely on thermal power plants (coal, oil, or gas fired) due to a scarcity of water for cooling, while uncertain water discharges will also see ‘intermittent performance’ from hydropower plants.

Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, PIK director, said “even adapting to 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise is a major task. Asian countries have to find strategies for ensuring prosperity and security under unavoidable climate change within a healthy global development.”

To mitigate the impact of climate change the report highlights the importance of implementing the commitments laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement, in addition to:

  • increased public and private investments focused on the rapid decarbonisation of the Asian economy.
  • implementation of adaptation measures to protect the region’s most vulnerable populations.
  • the mainstreaming of climate mitigation and adaptation efforts into macro-level regional development strategies and micro-level project planning in all sectors.
  • adoption of renewable energy and technology innovation efforts in urban infrastructure and transport.

Based in Manila, in 2016 the ADB approved a record $3.7 billion in climate financing and has committed to scale up its investments to $6 billion by 2020.




Climate change impact on human systems in Asia and the Pacific
Climate change impact on human systems in Asia and the Pacific Asian Development Bank


Stella-maris Ewudolu in Phnom Penh contributed to this this story



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John Le Fevre

Thailand editor at AEC News Today

John is an Australian national with more than 40 years experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer, and copy editor.

He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.

He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.

In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.

Prior to AEC News Today he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.

In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.

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