Climate Change: Role of Asia and the Pacific Key to Global Future

November 28, 2011 - The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is underway in Durban, South Africa, from November 28 –December 9, 2011. ADB believes the talks must continue to put Asia and the Pacific at the forefront of global efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and to help countries adapt to new economic and social threats.

“The region, with over 50% of the world’s population and two-thirds of its poor, is deeply vulnerable to climate change-linked events such as rising sea levels and increasingly severe droughts and floods,” said ADB Vice-President Bindu Lohani. “Without coordinated international action to help address climate change, Asia’s extraordinary growth and poverty reduction achievements of the past three decades will be undermined, and this in turn will hurt the global economy.”  

Asia and the Pacific Countries are Vulnerable to Climate Change

Geography compounded with high levels of poverty and population density has rendered Asia and the Pacific countries especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Climate change is real and the region faces daunting climate-related development challenges. Some of the impacts are predicted to be in the form of new challenges (such as sea-level rise) and others as age-old threats made more severe by climate change (such as flooding or drought).

The likely impacts of climate change in the form of higher temperatures, more variable precipitation, and more extreme weather events are already felt in many countries in the region. The region will need to adapt to those changes and reduce their exposure to climate risks.  Yet few developing countries in the region are well adapted to even current climate variations.

Impact on Poor

The effects of global warming are unfair. Climate change impacts the poor disproportionately because they depend heavily on climate-sensitive natural resources and subsist in an environment of scarcity where even small shocks can cause irreversible loss. Hence, climate change poses an additional risk to development and could potentially delay or reverse the attainment of many of the Millennium Development Goals, including those on poverty eradication, child mortality, vector-borne diseases, and environmental sustainability.

Natural Endowment

The region has thousands of islands, many below or just a few feet above sea level, and is endowed with some of the most important marine resources of the world, including coral reefs, a wide range of fish species, and other biodiversity. Livelihoods of millions are derived in large part from forestry, fishery, and tourism. The region’s ecosystems are already stressed and climate change will intensify many existing stresses caused by unsustainable resource use.

Sea-level Rise

Sea-level rise represents an existential threat to many small island nations.  Being land scarce and low lying, they are exposed to the risks of intensifying weather events such as damage caused by inundation, extreme winds, and flooding from storms.

Many of these islands have more territorial sea than land.  With future sea levels projected to increase in the range of 10 to 100 centimeters by the year 2100, many of the island nations - Kiribati, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Marshall Islands, the Maldives, the Cook Islands, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands - could be submerged in the worst-case scenarios.

Sea-level rise is also a major source of concern for coastal urban areas and for the fertile delta systems, which are threatened by both inundation and salt water intrusion.












Natural Disasters

The region is highly susceptible to natural disasters. In 2010, more than 30 million people in Asia and the Pacific were displaced by weather-related environmental disasters, and that pattern is likely to continue and grow.

Impacts ranging from higher temperatures to more variable precipitation and more extreme weather events are already being felt in the form of regular droughts, floods, and tropical cyclones.  With climate change the frequency and incidence of such natural disasters is projected to increase. Recent floods in Cambodia, Pakistan, Philippines, the People Republic of China (PRC) and Thailand offer a somber lesson.

Thailand’s recent flooding has been described as its worst in over 50 years. There have been over 600 reported deaths and over 3 million people affected. It is estimated the country’s gross domestic product could decline by up to 2% as a result of the devastation.

As climate-related risks intensify, there will be a need to respond proactively to build resilience through prevention and preparedness rather than through relief and response.

Urban Expansion

The region has some of the fastest growing cities in the world. The United Nations estimates that by 2020, 13 of the world’s 25 megacities, most of them situated in low-lying coastal areas, will be in Asia and the Pacific. In many megacities, more than half the population is crowded into densely populated slums that are at risk from flooding and where settlements lack basic protective infrastructure.

Climate change will likely exacerbate existing pressures on key resources associated with growth, urbanization and industrialization. Without a substantial investment in basic amenities and infrastructure in these large cities, climate change will worsen existing vulnerabilities. 

ADB Responds

ADB has been providing wide ranging financial and technical assistance to its developing member countries to help them move onto low-carbon and climate-resilient growth paths. In 2011, ADB's clean energy investment is expected to be more than $1.8 billion, putting it well on track to reach the $2 billion annual target by 2013. It is also supporting sustainable transport, national and regional adaptation planning and investments, and clean technology cooperation and knowledge sharing.

ADB’s climate change interventions over the last three years spanned more than 110 projects in over 40 countries, involving an investment of about $10 billion.