Kenichi Yokoyama
Kenichi Yokoyama, Director General of ADB's South Asia Department

ADB’s climate change operations have positioned the organization to be able to contribute towards a climate-resilient development path for its developing member countries (DMCs).

Adopting climate-resilient measures and technology in infrastructure projects ensure reliability, sustainability, and safety of these projects for their intended beneficiaries.

For South Asia, about 70% of ADB’s projects in the pipeline for 2021–2023 have design elements that will scale-up support for low greenhouse gas emissions, climate and disaster resilience, and environmental sustainability.

In this Q&A, Director General for South Asia Kenichi Yokoyama, explains ADB’s responses to the regional challenges, gives concrete examples of what ADB has already done, and what it intends to do in the years ahead.

What are the key climate issues facing South Asian countries?

South Asia has quite varied geography and combined with regional wind circulation patterns this creates a diverse climate. Glaciated northern regions—which include the Himalayas, Karakoram, and Hindu Kush mountains—have annual average temperatures at or below freezing, whereas in much of the Indian subcontinent temperatures averages 25° to 30°C. Both the hot and cold extremes are daunting, and climate change heightens these challenges.

The region is prone to climate and geological disasters such as floods, droughts, cyclones or storms, earthquakes, and landslides. Increasing average temperatures and changes in seasonal rainfall patterns are already having adverse effects across South Asia affecting populations, infrastructure, ecosystems, and livelihoods. Low-lying Bangladesh and Maldives, for example, are increasingly vulnerable to sea level rise, flooding, and cyclones in the Indian Ocean. Dhaka, Karachi, Kolkata, and Mumbai—urban areas that are home to more than 50 million people—continually face substantial risks of flood-related damages. Scientific literature suggests that such events will grow in intensity and severity over the coming decades.

How is climate change affecting economies in the subregion?

South Asia has about 1.5 billion people and is one of the poorest regions in the world. Although globalization has brought opportunities, so far only a small percentage of people have benefited. Despite high rates of economic growth in recent years and steady progress in poverty reduction, the region is still home to nearly half of the world’s poor.

Agriculture, natural resources, and the forestry and fisheries sectors are all important for the region’s economies. The increased risk of floods and droughts would decrease production in these sectors and exacerbate the condition of the poor.

Climate change impacts are emerging as significant risks to sustained growth. Studies suggest that to avoid loss and damages under a business-as-usual scenario, the region will need to provide an average adaptation expenditure of 0.48% of GDP, or about $40 billion, per year by 2050 and 0.86% of GDP, or about $73 billion, per year by 2100.1 The COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of complexities. It is clear that recovery efforts must focus on climate resilient and low-carbon growth development pathways.

What is ADB doing to help countries respond to climate challenges?

One of the key priorities under Strategy 2030, our corporate strategy for the next decade, is to tackle climate change, build climate and disaster resilience, and enhance environmental sustainability. To help achieve this we will be supporting our developing member countries with planning and investments in a range of subsectors including clean energy, sustainable transport and urban development; water resources management including its nexus to food and energy security; climate-smart agriculture and sustainable land use; climate and disaster resilience; air and water pollution management; and enhanced environmental governance.

To achieve this, ADB will continue to:

  • scale up investments that will directly tackle climate change impacts, such as better water and disaster risk management (such as watershed management, irrigation, flood risk management, coastal protection) in vulnerable areas;
  • integrate climate change mitigation and adaptation into the design of development projects;
  • offer concessional finance on the most challenging and emerging areas that will promote long-term solutions using new technologies;
  • cooperate with partners to promote information sharing and capacity development, and financing; and
  • continue to invest in climate resilient and sustainable infrastructure.

Can you give a few examples of ADB projects supporting these objectives?

Yes, we are supporting a number of very interesting and innovative projects in these areas. In Maldives, for example, we are working with the government on The Greater Malé Waste-to-Energy Project which will establish a sustainable solid waste treatment and disposal facility including an electricity surplus energy recovery facility. This facility will help the country manage severe environmental pollution caused by inadequate collection and haphazard disposal of solid waste.

In Bangladesh, we are supporting Flood and Riverbank Erosion Risk Management and Participatory Small-scale Water Resources Sector projects. The former integrates flood and river erosion risk management using innovative low-cost materials and decision support systems being replicated across the country. The latter provides water management structures (such as irrigation, drainage, and flood control) engaging local community organizations to manage the facilities, thereby building resilience against the climate change impacts.    

Another very important project is helping communities threatened by shoreline erosion in the coastal town of Ullal in the state of Karnataka, an important trading center in the southwestern region of India. The project is introducing environmentally appropriate climate change-resilient infrastructure such as inlet breakwaters and large artificial offshore reefs to ensure sustainable coastal protection.

A new wind farm on Mannar Island in Sri Lanka is generating renewable energy using state-of-the-art wind turbines. It is the largest wind farm in the country and is also located on a key bird migration path. This issue was raised as a concern in the project’s environmental impact assessment study and was addressed by using high-level technology to mitigate biodiversity issues. The wind farm is now equipped with a radar-based bird detection system that tracks incoming birds and temporarily shuts down the system until the birds are at a safe distance.

And let me mention one last example from Nepal where we are supporting watershed communities that are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The communities are exposed to biodiversity loss, water and food scarcity, and threats to their lives and livelihood. The Building Climate Resilience of Watersheds in Mountain Eco-Regions project demonstrates how to build long-term climate resilience in vulnerable mountain regions through a participatory integrated water resource and ecosystem-based approach.

How do you see this area of support developing in the year ahead?

I believe that continuing changes in technology, finance, policies, and challenges in the DMCs will require us to be dynamic in our responses, for which continuously upgrading robust knowledge is of utmost importance. This calls for increased traditional and new expertise in the evolving patterns of risks and vulnerabilities, economic impacts, and benefits of climate actions.

It would require us to enhance access to external climate finance; capture and disseminate lessons from scaling up climate finance; and implement targeted training and awareness-raising programs. ADB will need to develop knowledge on application of new technologies and best practices, analyses of investment constraints and opportunities, and understanding of green financing.

1Ahmed, M. and S. Suphachalasai. 2014. Assessing the Costs of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia. Asian Development Bank and UKAid, ISBN 978-92-9254-510-9 (Print), 978-92-9254-511-6 (PDF).