A publication of the Asian Development Bank No. 1    June 2008
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“These scenes are as frightening as a science fiction movie, but they are more terrifying because they are real”
Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General
Adapting to climate change will cost at least $50 billion a year, and far more if global emissions are not cut rapidly
“The massive investment needed in clean energy... can only be achieved by attracting private investment”
Josh Carmody, Senior Project Specialist for Clean Energy and Climate Change, Asian Development Bank
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Rising Seas, Melting Glaciers

Across Asia, up to a billion people could be adversely affected by climate change

Acceptance The monks of Khun Samut Chin are resigned to the sea’s encroachment
Photo by Vinai Dithajohn/OnAsia

Years ago, the temple Khun Samut Chin sat in the middle of a vibrant community, near a school, a clinic, homes, and farms. Today, the monks still live in the temple, but their only neighbors are the fish that swim in the Gulf of Thailand.

The temple juts dramatically out of the ocean on a spit of land in the gulf in Samut Prakarn province, a few hours south of Bangkok. The only access to the community that the monks serve, which has retreated to higher ground, is a rickety footbridge.

Electricity lines that were once on land now run through the ocean near the temple. Some parts of the village that once surrounded the temple are now 4 meters underwater.

“For now, we are holding back the ocean,” said a 40-year-old monk in the temple, as he watched workers carefully reinforce and raise a surrounding seawall. “For the future, we don’t know.”

Land subsidence is thought to be the principal reason behind the disappearance of the village, but the rise in sea level caused by climate change is an additional factor. Those who study the impact of global warming on Asia say the little village that once surrounded the Khun Samut Chin temple could be a glimpse into the future for much of the region.

“If the ocean comes to take the temple, then it will come,” said the monk philosophically. “We are not worried.”

Like a Science Fiction Movie

Source: www.climatehotmap.org

But many people in Asia are worried, and for good reason. In neighboring Viet Nam, about 4.4% of the country’s land area—or 14,520 square kilometers—could be inundated by 2100 because of sea level rise linked to climate change, according to a study by the International Centre for Environmental Management, an environmental consulting firm based in Queensland, Australia.

Thirty-nine of Viet Nam’s 64 provinces and 6 of its 8 economic regions could be affected, according to the study. A staggering one fifth of the country’s communes may be inundated, mostly in the low-lying Mekong delta region, where more than 12,000 square kilometers may be underwater.

“A 1 meter sea level rise will cause inundation that directly affects almost 6 million people, or 7.3% of the national population,” said Jeremy Carew-Reid, the center’s director. “The most affected province would be Ho Chi Minh City, with more than 660,000 people—and likely many more—affected.”

The Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing reports that glaciers in Xinjiang and Tibet have shrunk by as much as 18% in the last 5 years. The melting, caused by global warming, has increased temperatures in the western portions of the country, the academy reports.

Cleaner Growth for the PRC

Shanxi Province in the People's Republic of China is home to many of the country’s coal mines, which produce the coal that fuels economic growth and thus helps reduce poverty. The problem: these mines also produce methane, which is hastening global warming.

Read the full story.

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a 2OC increase in air temperature in the People's Republic of China (PRC) could decrease rain-fed rice yields by 5–12% in the country.

The PRC is already feeling the impact of climate change in the form of powerful cyclones battering its coastlines. Fourteen of the country’s twenty-one extreme storm surges in the last half century have occurred since 1986.

In India, the fast-melting Himalayan glaciers hold more fresh water than that captured by the polar ice sheets. If these glaciers melt completely, summer and autumn water flow to the Ganges River could be cut by two thirds and leave an estimated 400 million people struggling to find drinking water. The ensuing catastrophe would leave farmers without water to irrigate their crops and hydroelectric power stations without the water needed to power India’s booming economy.

“These scenes are as frightening as a science fiction movie, but they are more terrifying because they are real,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon after the IPCC produced its latest report on climate change.

Across Asia, up to a billion people could be affected by climate change, according to the IPCC. In a region that has seen rapid poverty reduction, many of those gains could be lost as an estimated 130 million people risk facing hunger by 2050 because of the effects of climate change.

Nearly 100 million people in the region will face increased risks of floods from annual ocean level increases of 1–3 millimeters, according to the IPCC. Rainfall will become less predictable, droughts more frequent, and typhoons stronger and more erratic.

“The human drama of climate change will largely be played out in Asia, where over 60% of the world’s population, around 4 billion people, live,” notes the Working Group on Climate Change and Development, a coalition of major poverty and environmental groups in the United Kingdom.

Worldwide, the picture painted by the IPCC of the future is equally grim. The panel warns that up to 30% of the world’s plants and animals could face extinction. Global sea levels could rise by as much as 1.4 meters by 2100, devastating coastal communities worldwide. In Africa, some countries could see farm yields fall by half in the next 12 years.

Criminally Irresponsible

High water Nearly 100 million people in the region will face increased risks of floods
Photo by AFP

One impact of climate change that all regions worldwide share is the fact that the poor will suffer first, experience the worst effects, and face the greatest challenges. And the poor have the least power to address the problem.

“Climate change will further reduce access to drinking water, negatively affect the health of poor people, and will pose a real threat to food security in many countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America,” according to Poverty and Climate Change, a report prepared by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and nine other international development agencies.

Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, puts it more bluntly: “Failing to act would constitute a direct attack on the poorest of the poor, and a nihilistic decision to undo achievements of the Millennium Development Goals. Failing to recognize the urgency of this message and acting on it would be nothing less than criminally irresponsible.”

The nongovernmental organization Oxfam International estimates that adapting to climate change will cost at least $50 billion a year, and far more if global emissions are not cut rapidly.

“Climate change is forcing vulnerable communities in poor countries to adapt to unprecedented climate stress,” says Oxfam. “Rich countries, primarily responsible for creating the problem, must stop harming, by fast cutting their greenhouse gas emissions, and start helping, by providing finance for adaptation.”

According to climate experts, key focus areas in the years to come will be helping poor countries adapt to climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the problem, and working to establish long-term solutions to the problem.

Development Projects in Peril

As countries in Asia attempt to safeguard their communities from the effects of climate change, development organizations are expected to play a key role.

“In developing countries, there often is not much that can be done to change the global climate change situation,” says Glen Anderson, a senior manager with the Washington-based consulting firm International Resources Group. “What developing countries can do is work on adaptation to protect their people, and development organizations are vital to this effort.”

International Resources Group helped the US Agency for International Development produce a manual for development professionals dealing with climate change issues in their projects. Anderson, who worked on the manual, said that climate change needs to be addressed as part of project planning and design.

“If a project officer is designing a flood control project, like building seawalls, are the events that might happen as a result of climate change being accounted for?” said Anderson. “Do the levees need to be higher? What impact will climate change have on the construction of a dam? How close should a project be built to the coastline in light of projected sea-level increases?”

“If I am the water minister of a member country, I would want to know that this project being funded by an international development organization is protected from the changes that may come about in years to come due to climate change,” Anderson said.

Development projects are already designed with political and economic uncertainties factored in. Climate change needs to be incorporated in a similar fashion.

“Project officers don’t need to be experts in climate change,” said Anderson. “They need to be able to know what information is out there and how to use it effectively to get the best results for the project. It’s just part of the due diligence of project preparation.”

An Immense Investment Opportunity

While developing countries struggle to adapt to the changing climate, developed countries—and the surging economies of huge developing countries such as the PRC and India—are tasked with finding ways to reduce the greenhouse gases emitted in their countries to help mitigate the problem.

The situation is particularly acute in Asia. The region’s booming economies will produce and consume a huge portion of world energy in years to come. How that energy is produced—with sources that pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere or through cleaner methods—is a key issue facing the region and the world.

In the early 1970s, developing Asia’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions was less than 10%, according to Josh Carmody, a senior project specialist for clean energy and climate change at the Asian Development Bank. By 2030, these countries are predicted to contribute 42% of the global total annual greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is a simple fact that the world will not avoid dangerous climate change unless there is a substantial increase in investment in clean energy in Asia in the next 20 years,” said Carmody.

The massive investments needed in clean energy cannot be provided by any donor or development agency, or even a combination of them. It can only be achieved by attracting private investment to the Asian clean energy sector. According to Carmody, the clean energy sector is a $100-billion-a-year industry.

Concerns regarding climate change will continue to drive policy and regulatory support for clean energy in the coming years. This government support, combined with concerns about rising prices for fossil fuels and energy security, will continue to drive investment in the sector.

“The challenge is to ensure that investment in clean energy in Asia takes place at the necessary scale in the next two decades,” said Carmody. “This presents an immense investment opportunity.

A Road Map or a Letdown?

More droughts Some 130 million could face hunger by 2050 because of climate change
Photo by AFP

In December 2007, in Bali, Indonesia, the world came together to address these issues. Ministers from more than 180 countries gathered to hammer out an agreement on how to work together to slow global warming and adapt to the changes already underway.

In 2 weeks of pragmatic talks and dramatic emotional negotiations, developed and developing countries agreed to a “road map” that would set out a clear agenda for negotiating a successor by 2009 to the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the first major international agreement on addressing climate change and which ends in 2012.

The challenge facing countries trying to deal with this issue is formidable. According to the IPCC, in order to hold global warming to manageable levels by 2100, industrialized countries must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions between 80% and 95% by 2050.

The Bali road map calls on developed nations to consider mitigation “commitments” or mandatory caps. It calls on developing countries to consider mitigation “actions”—language less demanding than that for industrialized countries. But the plan does not call for specific targets for emissions reductions, which disappointed many at the Bali meeting.

The key deal obtained for developing countries from the meeting was an agreement for industrialized, developed countries to increase financing and expedite the transfer of clean energy technology to developing countries. The goal is to allow developing countries the energy they desperately need to expand their economies and lift their populations out of poverty while reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases.

Many heralded the Bali road map as a landmark agreement charting a path forward. But others said it was 2 weeks of talking with an agreement to talk more.

“Ministers from some industrialized countries meeting in Bali have let down the people of the world,” said Stephanie Long, climate coordinator for the global nongovernmental organization Friends of the Earth International. “They reached agreement on a way forward, but with little to guide them along the way. Future talks will now face a serious uphill battle to reach a strong agreement by the end of 2009.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon acknowledged the difficult road ahead in his statement after the Bali meeting. “This is the beginning,” he said, “not the end.”