Climate change is one of the biggest challenges faced globally and an issue with significant implications on energy, food and water security as well as health and safety of people across the world. Melting glaciers, heat waves, sinking cities, droughts and floods - the effects of climate change are too evident to be ignored.

In this project, we report on the effects of climate change in Asia-Pacific through a series of data-driven stories. The data and projections are based on international climate change research and built on a large body of work undertaken for the region. In this series, the first report covers the impact of climate change in Asia and overall temperature change in the region within the last 100 years. This particular report will trace the rise of sea levels, temperature changes in warm and cool land masses in Asia.

Asia is in the midst of its developmental activity coupled with energy and environmental issues wherein climate change is a key concern. While Asian economies are growing, so are the levels of temperature, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The retreat of glaciers, rising temperature and permafrost in Asia is taking place at an unprecedented rate. Rain and weather patterns are also changing. The crop yield in many countries of Asia has declined which experts say is partly due to rising temperatures. The graph (below) highlights major impacts of climate change in Asia.

Fig: 1 Impact of climate change in Asia

Climate Change Over the Past 100 Years:

Over the last century, scientists estimate that mean global temperatures have increased by 0.5 to 1.0 °Fahrenheit (0.3 to 0.6 °C), primarily as a result of emissions from burning of fossil fuels and the razing of tropical forests. The figures, collected from the Headley Centre of UK Met Office, describe the temperature "anomaly" (the difference) between the year in question and the reference period of 1961–1990. The figures collected since 1901 reveal the increase in the world’s average temperature. While 1998 remains the hottest single year since records began, the past decade has been the warmest period in the last 100 years.

Fig 2: Data provided below charts the world's temperature since 1901

According to the report of the UN convention to combat desertification, temperatures are expected to increase more rapidly in the arid areas of northern Pakistan and India and western China. Overall, the temperature in the region is expected to increase by 0.5-2°C by 2030 and 1-7°C by 2070.

Global and Continental Temperature Change:

Over the years, human activities have released increasing quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This has made glaciers to melt at an unprecedented rate which eventually led to an increase in temperatures. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has observed that most of the increase in global temperatures since the mid-20th century is most likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (resulting from human activity) greenhouse gas concentration. As the emissions increase, more heat is released in the atmosphere and is thus a major cause of climate change. The forecast suggests that the global average temperature will remain between 0.28C and 0.59C above the long-term average with values most likely to be about 0.43C higher than average. The temperatures on land and in the oceans will increase.

Fig 3: Temperature changes in land and oceans

Population Scare:

The growing population in Asia Pacific has created additional risks due to scarcity of resources, such as water, energy, and urban infrastructure. According to Maplecroft, a UK-based global risk consulting firm, Asia’s fastest growing cities which include Kolkata in India, Manila in the Philippines, Jakarta in Indonesia and Dhaka and Chittagong in Bangladesh are increasingly at risk from the impacts of climate-related natural hazards including sea level rise. With over 4 billion people, Asia hosts 60% of the world's population. The rise in population is a challenge to the region’s rapid economic development. The graph shows the eight most populated countries in the region. China and India are the two most populous countries with a combined population of 2.5 billion, amounting to around 40 percent of the world's population. China is currently the most populous country in the world with every 5th person in the world being Chinese. India, however, is expected to take over China in terms of population by 2025. The challenge to India, as to other countries in the region, will remain how to meet needs of rising population while reining in the emission of the global greenhouse gases.

Fig: 4 & 5 Population and Climate Change

Rise Of Sea Level:

Over the past century, the Global Mean Sea Level (GMSL) has risen by 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters). However, the annual rate of rise over the past 20 years has been 0.13 inches (3.2 millimeters), roughly twice the average speed of the preceding 80 years. The four main reasons for rise in sea levels are:

  • Melting of glaciers
  • Thermal expansion
  • Ice loss from Greenland
  • Melting of Antarctic ice sheet

As a chart (below) depicts, the melting of glaciers due to higher temperatures has contributed to a 45% rise in sea levels. Thermal expansion has contributed 38% and, subsequently, the melting of Antarctic ice sheet, which happens due to high sea temperatures, has contributed to a 13% rise. The ice loss from Greenland due to increasing heat in the environment contributes with 4%.

Fig -6: Four reasons for rise in sea levels

The Asia Pacific region remains prone to further increase in sea level and climate change. Rising sea levels are believed to affect a significant number of countries in the region, particularly countries like Bangladesh, the Maldives and Vietnam. How are Asian countries responding to climate change? Are some countries more environmentally friendly than others? This and more will be covered in the upcoming report.