Southeast Asia is among the regions of the world hardest hit by climate change, and is especially at risk of losing settlements and infrastructure to sea-level rise, a major new report published on February 28 has shown.
“With ongoing global warming, today’s children in South and Southeast Asia will witness increased losses in coastal settlements and infrastructure due to flooding caused by unavoidable sea-level rise, with very high losses in East Asian cities,” said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.
The report also concluded that if global warming exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, the impacts of climate change could be more severe, and some will be irreversible.
“Risks for society will increase, including to infrastructure and low-lying coastal settlements,” said the IPCC report.
But limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will help the world avoid harsher climate impact, scientists say.
Rising sea levels expert Benjamin Horton from the Nanyang Technological University’s Earth Observatory of Singapore said the greatest effects of rising sea levels will be felt in Asia, due to the number of people living in the continent’s low-lying areas.
For example, mainland China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand are home to the most people on land that is projected to be below average annual coastal flood levels by 2050, Horton said.
“Together, those six nations account for roughly 75 per cent of the 300 million people on land facing the same vulnerability at mid-century,” he added.
The IPCC report also found that risks to coastal cities and settlements are projected to increase by “at least one order of magnitude” by 2100, if there are no significant plans to deal with the crisis.
Rising sea levels are not the only threat confronting Southeast Asia.
Climate scientist Winston Chow from the Singapore Management University, one of the authors involved in the report, said ASEAN has already been exposed to many climate change-related impacts, such as floods, droughts, urban heat as well as biodiversity and habitat losses.
“These current impacts are projected to worsen in the future, especially when global surface temperatures exceed the threshold of 1.5 deg Celsius,” Chow said.
The world has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times.
At this level of warming, some climate impacts are already locked in and considered close to irreversible in some natural ecosystems, such as the long-term decline of coral reefs in the South China Sea, said Chow.
He added that a warmer Earth could mean that parts of ASEAN dependent on water from glacial melt – such as cities along the upper Mekong – would likely have reduced freshwater resources, due to the loss of ice there.
Crop yields could also be reduced if the world gets warmer, and other climate-driven events such as floods, droughts and tropical cyclones could further affect yield,” said Chow.
If cities and countries want to reduce such climate risks, then adaptation is essential to minimise future loss and damages, he added.
Adaptation refers to measures that countries can take to reduce the impacts of climate-driven events on societies, while loss and damage is a term used in climate change discussions that refers to climate impacts that societies are currently suffering which cannot be, or have not been, reduced by adaptation efforts.
For rising sea levels, for example, adaptation measures could include building sea walls or restoring mangroves, since these ecosystems have tangled root systems that can keep pace with rising sea levels to an extent.
Or to reduce flooding in urban areas, an adaptation strategy could include having land-use planning policies that discourage buildings in areas exposed to floods or cyclones, Chow said.
THE STRAITS TIMES/ASIA NEWS NETWORK