Climate change deal in Paris is crucial for Asia’s ability to thrive
Ancha Srinivasan says the region cannot meet its social development goals if nothing is done to slow down global warming and avert its devastating impact
This year is likely the hottest for 4,000 years, scientists tell us. But what’s more important is what this says about the urgent need for a global climate deal in around a month’s time.
Seven out of nine months this year have registered the highest global average temperatures ever recorded, and the first nine months were the hottest since 1880. These alarming figures highlight how important it is that a deal be reached in December, when countries will gather for the United Nations Conference for Climate Change in Paris.
Whatever happens in Paris, Asia’s governments, businesses and local communities need to address climate change if the newly minted Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved at all, let alone by the 2030 deadline. At stake is the future sustainability of the region’s economies and environment, as well as the health of its citizens.
It has been a relentlessly warm year across the Asia-Pacific. Heatwaves have claimed more than 3,000 lives in India, as well as livestock. This was coupled with a sharp drop in rainfall in areas covered by the southwest monsoon, which was 14 per cent weaker than last year.
Some parts of India received less than half the expected rainfall. In Vietnam, water levels in reservoirs were down by 67 per cent, causing alarm among farmers. Other Southeast Asian countries have suffered similarly.
This year has also been among the worst for haze from forest fires on the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra. High temperatures and dry weather intensified air pollution, affecting the health of millions in the country as well as in Malaysia, Singapore, southern Thailand and the Philippines.
The World Resources Institute has suggested that Indonesia’s forest fires this year released more than 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, which is nearly equal to Brazil’s annual emissions.
There were also several extreme weather events such as Typhoon Koppu in the Philippines.
What is causing this disruption? The culprit is perhaps an unusually strong El Niño current that is warming the Pacific Ocean, where the surface temperature has increased by up to 2.4 degrees Celsius above average. El Niño is not new, but it has been aggravated by climate change due to rising greenhouse gas emissions, which means extreme weather will become even more frequent.
Models predict that climate change could double the number of extreme El Niños. Scientists project that this year’s El Niño could be one of the four strongest since 1950, a sobering thought given that the El Niño in the late 1990s cost nearly US$40 billion.
Climate negotiators have been working hard for the past three years to develop a legally binding, universal agreement to keep global warming below 2 degrees. The last batch of formal meetings concluded with a 51-page draft for discussion in Paris. Boiling it down to a manageable size is a daunting task.
Over 150 governments have submitted their “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” to address climate change. These target reductions in global average emissions per capita of up to 9 per cent by 2030. However, preliminary analyses show that these will not take us anywhere near the 2-degree goal, let alone the 1.5-degree target demanded by the most vulnerable countries, including many Pacific island nations.
Current pledges, even if fully realised, will lead to a global temperature rise of at least 2.7-3.5 degrees above the pre-industrial average by 2100.
This will hurt our economies. A recent study published in Nature magazine stated that rising temperatures due to unmitigated climate change would reduce global gross domestic product per capita by 23 per cent by 2100.
A multipronged approach to climate change and disaster risk reduction measures are required. Investments in climate services and information systems must be ramped up to steer adaptation efforts in the region.
The use of stress-tolerant crops and livestock, community-based water conservation schemes, risk-sharing instruments like crop insurance, and climate-resilient infrastructure must be supported.
Efforts to reduce growth in greenhouse gas emissions from the region must be accelerated by energy efficiency measures, increased use of renewable energy, sustainable land use, and environmentally sustainable transport and waste management practices.
Without redoubling our efforts on climate, the 21st century will not be Asia’s century and the Sustainable Development Goals may never be realised.
Ancha Srinivasan is the principal climate change specialist at the Asian Development Bank’s Southeast Asia department