Climate Change Effects in Asia | World Series Part 3
Updated: Nov 3, 2022
In Part Three of our World Climate Change series, we will be discussing the climate change impacts on Asia.
Asia’s contribution to global emissions
Asia is the largest and most populous continent on earth. So accordingly, the impacts of climate change will be the most hard-hitting to Asian countries as there are more people that are at risk.
But at the same time, Asia is home to three of the world’s top five polluters; China, Japan, and India.
As stated in the report by Verisk Maplecroft, Asian cities will be contributing to more than half of the global GHG emissions by the next 20 years if no action is taken.
Many Asian countries are still developing countries with rapid economic growth and urbanization.
Such economic growth involves processes that create jobs, for example, manufacturing, tourism, and other infrastructure developments, which directly and indirectly contribute to exacerbating global warming and climate change.
Accordingly, the increase of carbon emissions in Asia (especially Southeast Asia) is faster than anywhere else in the world between 1990-2010.
Another major source of GHG is deforestation. Indonesia and Malaysia are home to the world’s largest forestlands, which are cut down and cleared to make farms. These farms are used to produce pulp, paper, palm oil, rice, etc., which are significant resources for export revenue.
Deforestation accounts for nearly half of Indonesia’s emissions, which is almost more than fossil fuel emissions. This is a concerning issue as most of the population has to rely on this activity to make a living, therefore proper policies and alternative productivity solutions should be considered by the government to subsidize the society while also taking into account the Paris Agreement goals.
Climate Change Impacts
By now, we would have noticed the pattern of impacts climate change has on a region, from unpredictable weather events to a rapidly increasing temperature resulting in new diseases forming, water scarcity or increased precipitation, heat strokes, etc.
But in Asia, most climate change risks are related to water.
Water is essential for human wellbeing and livelihood. Besides supporting life for humans, animals, and plants, water is also related to the economy of a country.
For example, water is used for irrigation and to grow crops for farmers as their occupation. But on the other hand, severe water-related disasters such as flooding and tsunami can damage infrastructure, where it would cost a lot of money for its rebuilding and recovery.
According to the UN, Asia is especially vulnerable to climate change risks due to a combination of an increase in the frequency of natural disasters and the usually chaotic processes of urbanization from the large population of Asian countries.
Additionally, a report by Verisk Maplecroft has also stated that 99 out of 100 most vulnerable cities in the world are in Asia. Without proper adaptation and mitigation, Asian societies and the economy will be increasingly vulnerable to climate change risks.
Southeast Asia will face more severe climate change risks than the rest of the world. Many countries are located in low-lying and crowded coastal areas, which could be made worse by an increase in rainfall added by sea-level rise.
For example, Indonesia could have over 5 million displaced, whereas over a quarter of Vietnam’s population could be affected. Displacement on this large scale could trigger mass migration, where some processes might exacerbate global warming.
Even if emissions can be reduced, around 370 million people could still be affected in the next 30 years.
Climate change alters the rainfall patterns in terms of the amount of rainfall and the timing. This means that the wet season is going to get wetter, and dry seasons to become drier, resulting in increased floods and droughts.
The number of flood events in Asia has increased from 300 in 1970/80 to 1,540 in 2011/20, alongside increasing drought events from 85 to 152 during the same period.
Surface runoff has increased alongside heavier rainstorms and precipitation. Runoff causes water pollution, as rainwater picks up litter, chemicals, and other toxic substances while it moves along a surface and flushes them into rivers, streams, and ponds.
Thus, runoff is harmful to the species living in aquatic ecosystems and could also contaminate safe drinking water. Besides endangering human and aquatic ecosystem health, contamination could also lead to an increase to clean water prices, leading to harder access to safe drinking water.
Global warming causes a reduction in glaciers by melting the snow and ice cover. The Himalayan glacier ice loss rates have accelerated from 22cm a year in the early 2000s, to 43 cm a year in 2000-2016.
Rising temperatures will only increase the rates of this ice loss, and even if warming is limited to 1.5°C, a third of the ice cover will still be lost from the accumulation since past times.
The streamflow of these glacier and polar ice melts will be changed in their timing and magnitude, causing surrounding dependant countries to be disadvantaged, such as for irrigation, mining, agriculture, and recreation.
Polar ice melting and increased precipitation will also cause sea-level rise. This is particularly dangerous for low-lying and coastal cities, which are predominant in most Asian and Southeast Asian countries.
According to research, six specific countries - China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Thailand, which hold almost 3.45 billion people, are at risk of mass displacement by floods due to sea-level rise by 2050.
Lastly, climate change is increasing water demands. As higher temperatures increase the rate of evaporation from soil and plants, contamination, melting ice caps, and sea-level rise are also making it harder to access clean water.
Additionally, a growing population means that there will also be an increase in water consumption by humans, animals, and plants.
All these factors result in severe competition for water, especially in countries experiencing water scarcity from shrinking glaciers and daunting droughts. Competition could trigger conflicts between countries.
To conclude, Asia might be the continent that is more severely impacted by climate change risks than the rest. From the combination of developing countries processes, a large population, to being geographically vulnerable (especially in Southeast Asia).
As home to the biggest contributors to global GHG emissions, Asia still has a long way to go to mitigate climate change risks while continuing its economic growth.
Therefore, it is our duty as citizens of the world to spread awareness and to take action now; because anything small we do, even from the opposite side of the world, could make a significant impact here in Asia.
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Olivia Eugenia is an Environmental Science student at the University of Western Australia. She is also an activist and a content writer at IYOPS.
Inputs and Edits by Aswin Raghav R.