Wanted - A Pact That Reflects Bangkok's Needs

Bangkok is one of the great cities of the world, a true international hub with first-class facilities, bustling business centres and, of course, Thailand's legendary hospitality. As such, it is a natural venue for more than 3,000 senior officials and climate change negotiators to come together ahead of Copenhagen to discuss a new climate change agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol's provisions, which expire in 2012.

Bangkok is also a fitting venue as a symbol of some of the great challenges faced by half of the world's population living in Asia and the Pacific. This city of nearly 12 million people has developed in amazing ways over the past two decades. But as anyone reading this newspaper while stuck in traffic can attest, its extraordinary growth has come at a cost: heavy pollution from the massive upsurge in personal motorised transport and an infrastructure stretched to capacity.

It is stories like this across Asia that have made the burning of fossil fuels for the region's transport the top global source of new greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming. Despite the negative environmental consequences, the city continues to attract new migrants who come to the city in search of opportunity.

Three new studies funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) underscore just how dire is the threat of seriously rising temperatures to the region's food, fuel and people. Without policy measures, the impact to these three will block inclusive and sustainable growth in developing Asia.

Produced by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), USA; The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), India; and the University of Adelaide in Australia, the reports depict a continent locked in an intensifying, climate change-induced struggle over land, water and energy resources. Viewed individually, each report contains measured warnings about the consequences of rising temperatures for food production, energy security, and migration patterns in the decades to come.

Taken together, the reports present a deeply troubling confluence of skyrocketing food prices and volatile energy supplies and costs, which will contribute to the ongoing and massive rural to urban migration that has turned cities across Asia like Bangkok into mega cities.

The agriculture report warns food security is particularly at risk from climate change. Some 2.2 billion Asians rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, which are now threatened by falling crop yields caused by floods, droughts, erratic rainfall and other climate change impacts.

Current climate models indicate a sharp rise in food prices by 2050 - pushing the cost of rice up by 29-37%, maize by 58-97% and wheat by 81-102%.

The food and energy security of every Asian is threatened by climate change, but the hikes in the price of food will be felt, first and foremost, by the poor and especially poor women in rural areas given their dependence on subsistence crops, their limited access to resources, and their lack of decision- making power.

The energy report assesses how the fuels that are driving Asia's remarkable development are also driving up the greenhouse gas emissions that, paradoxically, threaten the region's continued growth.

It finds that Asia's energy vulnerability is rising, with access, affordability and quality all under increasing threat.

Of the 1.6 billion people in the world who lack access to electricity, about 60% live in the Asia and Pacific region.

The impacts of climate-change on Asia's agriculture and energy security are helping to drive mass migration, according to the migration report.

A disproportionate number of "hot spots" - specific areas at relatively high risk from climate change hazards - are in the Asia and Pacific region. The criteria for defining these areas include coastal vulnerability due to sea level rise, water stress, flooding and cyclones.

Migration is a complex issue driven by a range of economic, social and demographic factors. But migration trends are becoming increasingly clear. Asian people at risk are moving mostly in one direction: toward Asia's cities, within national borders, and to where social networks have been established.

Which brings us back to Bangkok: A great, ironic tragedy is that most of those migrating to the Thai capital are moving in to, rather than away from, a climatic hot zone, for Bangkok's coastal location and massive population make it particularly vulnerable to climate change.

And the story of Bangkok is replicated in mega cities across Asia - the region that will likely suffer most if a comprehensive and effective climate change agreement is not reached in Copenhagen in December.

So what messages can the delegates to the Bangkok climate-change talks draw from Asia to encourage an ambitious outcome in Copenhagen? How best can the needs of a city like Bangkok be reflected in a new climate change treaty?

Action and investment are needed - and needed now - to avert the worst impacts of climate change and protect the food and water security of billions of Asians. Asia needs $3-4 billion in annual investments from 2010 to 2050 for agricultural research, irrigation improvements, and climate-resilient rural roads. It needs all the knowledge, technical expertise and financing levels that the world can provide. Asia is blessed with an array of clean energy resources - including opportunities for expanded hydropower, geothermal, solar, biomass and wind power. Large funding sources will be needed to tap these clean resources and to promote energy efficiency measures, but the savings potential is huge - estimated to be over 45% - for the industry, transportation and building sectors. And Asia needs to factor climate change considerations into spatial planning, with more effective schemes to divert investment and economic activity away from environmentally vulnerable areas of its cities and promote sustainable transport.

The road to Copenhagen has been long and arduous, but let's hope that this timely and important detour through Bangkok will provide the time and opportunity for delegates to agree upon measures that can ensure the city's and the rest of the planet's future vitality.