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'Asia could lose development gains to climate change'

New Delhi : Several Asian countries tend to lose hard-earned development gains in coming decades as unabated climate change plays havoc in several regions, causing wide-spread flooding in many cities and leading to both decline and increase in rainfall in several others.

Particularly vulnerable to flooding are Indian coastal cities including Mumbai, Chennai, Surat and Kolkata. Elsewhere, many Asian countries could struggle with food and energy production, both of which required water.

A recent report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) said climate change would bring devastating consequences to countries in Asia and the Pacific, which could severely affect their future growth, reverse current development gains, and degrade quality of life,

Under a business-as-usual scenario, a 6-degree Celsius temperature increase is projected over the Asian landmass by the end of the century. Some countries in the region could experience significantly hotter climates, with temperature increases in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the northwest part of China projected to reach 8-degree Celsius.

These increases in temperature would lead to drastic changes in the region’s weather system, agriculture and fisheries sectors, land and marine biodiversity, domestic and regional security, trade, urban development, migration, and health, said the report - 'A region at risk: The human dimensions of climate change in Asia and the Pacific'.

Such a scenario may even pose an existential threat to some countries in the region and crush any hope of achieving sustainable and inclusive development.

“The global climate crisis is arguably the biggest challenge human civilization faces in the 21st century, with the Asia and Pacific region at the heart of it all,” said ADB Vice-President (Knowledge management & sustainable development) Bambang Susantono.

“Home to two-thirds of the world’s poor and regarded as one of the most vulnerable region to climate change, countries in Asia and the Pacific are at the highest risk of plummeting into deeper poverty — and disaster — if mitigation and adaptation efforts are not quickly and strongly implemented.”

More intense typhoons and tropical cyclones are expected to hit Asia and the Pacific with rising global mean temperatures. Under a business-as-usual scenario, annual precipitation is expected to increase by up to 50 per cent over most land areas in the region, although countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan may experience a decline in rainfall by 20-50 per cent.

Coastal and low-lying areas in the region will be at an increased risk of flooding. Nineteen of the 25 cities most exposed to a one-meter sea-level rise are located in the region, seven of which are in the Philippines alone.

Increased vulnerability to flooding and other disasters will also significantly impact the region — and the world — economically.

Global flood losses are expected to increase to $52 billion per year by 2050 from $6 billion in 2005. Moreover, 13 of the top 20 cities with the largest growth of annual flood losses from 2005-2050 are in Asia and the Pacific: Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Zhanjiang, and Xiamen (PRC); Mumbai, Chennai, Surat, and Kolkata (India); Ho Chi Minh City (Viet Nam); Jakarta (Indonesia); Bangkok (Thailand); and Nagoya (Japan).

"The Asian countries hold Earth's future in their hands. If they choose to protect themselves against dangerous climate change, they will help to save the entire planet,” said PIK Director Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber.

“The challenge is twofold. On the one hand, Asian greenhouse-gas emissions have to be reduced in a way that the global community can limit planetary warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, as agreed in Paris 2015. Yet even adapting to 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise is a major task. So, on the other hand, Asian countries have to find strategies for ensuring prosperity and security under unavoidable climate change within a healthy global development", he said.

Climate change will also make food production in the region more difficult and production costs higher. In some countries of Southeast Asia, rice yields could decline by up to 50 per cent by 2100 if no adaptation efforts are made. Food shortages could increase the number of malnourished children in South Asia by 7 million, as import costs will likely increase in the subregion to $15 billion per year compared to $2 billion by 2050.

A warmer climate could endanger energy supply too. Climate change can exacerbate energy insecurity through continued reliance on unsustainable fossil fuels, reduced capacities of thermal power plants due to a scarcity of cooling water, and intermittent performance of hydropower plants as a result of uncertain water discharges, among other factors. Energy insecurity could lead to conflicts as countries compete for limited energy supply.

A business-as-usual approach to climate change could also disrupt functioning ecosystem services, prompting mass migration — mostly to urban areas — that could make cities more crowded and overwhelm available social services.

The report calls for implementing commitments laid out in the Paris Agreement, including public and private investments focused on the rapid decarbonization of the Asian economy besides implementation of adaptation measures to protect the region’s most vulnerable populations.

Climate mitigation and adaptation efforts should also be mainstreamed into macro-level regional development strategies and micro-level project planning in all sectors, the report said, adding that the region has both the capacity and weight of influence to move towards sustainable development pathways, curb global emissions, and promote adaptation.

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