While climate change will affect everyone, it is widely acknowledged that the poorest people in the poorest countries will suffer first and the most.
According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2015, five of the top ten countries to be affected most by climate change-induced disasters during 1994-2013 are from the Asia-Pacific region—home to 743 million extremely poor people. Asia-Pacific also accounted for 91% of the world’s total death and 49% of the world’s total damage due to natural disasters in the last century. The future seems grim indeed for the region which accounts for half of the global greenhouse gas emissions.
Already there is a substantial scientific work which says that there has been a marked increase in the intensity and frequency of heat waves, tropical cyclones, long dry spells, cloudbursts, cyclones, thunderstorms, dust storms, snow avalanches and landslides in the region in recent years.
Scientists predict that the region’s temperatures will increase between 0.5-2°C in the next 15 years and by up to 7°C by 2070. The climate models also say that summers will have increasingly concentrated rainfall while winters will be increasingly arid. Further, in view of the expected global sea level rise of about 3-16 cm by 2030 and up to 50 cm by 2070, the Asia-Pacific regions stands to suffer the most.
The region’s economic growth trajectories led by China and India also stands to be scuttled by the increased frequency in climate change-induced hydro-logical and geological disasters. Climate change will pose obstacles to programmes of poverty reduction and also eat into many of the gains made by poor countries.
All these developments will cause havoc in the region where majority of the estimated 500 million rural poor are subsistence farmers occupying land that is dependent on the seasonal rains. It is predicted that just due to climate change about 49 million more people of the Asia-Pacific will be at risk of hunger by 2020.
Because of climate change, the region will also see a marked scarcity of fresh water especially in central, south, east and south-east Asia. It is estimated to adversely impact more than a billion people by 2050.The consequences cannot be understated particularly for the low-lying coastal areas, including the small island states especially because of the rise in sea-level. The effects of such events will have a multiplier effect in the form of susceptibility to diseases, loss of income and human livelihoods.
The most vulnerable areas in the region are the heavily-populated mega-delta regions in south, east and south-east Asia, including urban centers like Manila, Bangkok, Kolkata and Hoh Chi Minh City.
The increasing pressure from human activities and usage of land will impact the delicate ecosystems in the region resulting in reduced resilience to the effects of climate change. The danger is immense for coral reef communities, mangrove wetlands and forests.
Because of climate change, up to 13% of the coral reefs of the region may be damaged. Similar fate lies in store for mangrove forests which are very rich biodiversity habitats, protectors of the shoreline besides being providers of key resources for the poor rural populations. Wetlands have dried up and severely degraded particularly in the delta regions of Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.
In case of forests, the increasing intensity and spread of forest fires in the region has already been recorded in the past 20 years and this has been attributed to the increase in temperatures and decrease in precipitation.
Besides curbing carbon dioxide emissions, the need to tackle the threat and augment resilience in agriculture, infrastructure, water, health and urban development sectors is imminent. According to scientists, if the earth heats up by over 2 degrees Celsius, climate change will become irreversible and catastrophic.