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Victims of flooding carry belongings salvaged from their homes in Pakistan on Thursday. The deluge, which began in mid-June, has triggered landslides and collapsed houses, killing over 1,350 people including hundreds of children, and leaving more than 600,000 homeless. Photo: AP

Floods, heatwaves, landslides, food security: Southeast Asians air climate concerns in new report

  • Southeast Asia Climate Outlook 2022 survey questioned over 1300 people across Asean’s 10 countries, with many nations seen as slow, ineffective
  • Climate change will ‘haunt region and world for many decades, even in best case scenario’, said ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, survey organiser

Floods, heatwaves and rainfall-induced landslides are the top concerns in Southeast Asia on climate change with almost half of its citizens – 49.3 per cent – saying there is a lack of political will to mitigate the threats, according to a new report released on Thursday.

The Southeast Asia Climate Outlook: 2022 Survey Report, the third such survey by the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, comes against the backdrop of Pakistan’s devastating floods which left one-third of the country underwater and China’s hottest heatwave ever, throwing a massive spotlight on the existential threat of climate change.

Many Southeast Asians questioned (31.2 per cent) across Asean’s 10 countries also believe climate change is a threat to food security.

Additionally, over 60 per cent of respondents believe regional countries should stop building new coal power plants immediately, while 72.5 per cent wanted to cut coal reliance immediately.

However, support for eliminating new coal power plants is much weaker in Myanmar (25.6 per cent), Brunei (54.2 per cent), and Indonesia (58.8 per cent).

Commenting on the survey results, Choi Shing Kwok, Director and CEO of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, said that while the challenges of energy and food insecurity have become more stark and complex as a result of crises like Covid-19 and the Ukraine conflict, it was vital not to forget the climate threat, “the elephant in the room”.

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It will “haunt the region and the world for many decades even in the best case scenario”, he said. “Building climate resilience needs to become a crucial component of transforming regional agricultural production, which many Southeast Asians agree is a top priority.”

Sharon Seah, senior fellow and coordinator of the Climate Change in Southeast Asia Programme at ISEAS said climate worries were growing each year as the region continued to deal with the consequences of extreme weather, but governments, businesses and other stakeholders are often seen to be slow and ineffective in their responses.

Floods polled 22.4 per cent as the most serious threat in Southeast Asia followed by heatwaves at 18.1 per cent and rainfall-induced landslides at 12 per cent.

In 2021, the region’s most serious climate change impact were floods, loss of biodiversity and rising sea levels, the report said.
A bus on a flooded street in Yangon, Myanmar, last month. Photo: Xinhua

Country wise, floods were Cambodia and Malaysia’s top-ranked impact at 32.7 per cent and 28 per cent respectively. Cambodia’s Tonle Sap flood plains, the country’s economic lifeline in the northwest, suffers from heavy flooding annually. There have been around 729 deaths between 2005 and 2020 in that area, the survey said.

Heatwaves were Myanmar’s biggest problem (29.1 per cent), while rainfall induced landslides continued to worry Malaysia (20.6 per cent).

For respondents living in rural areas, droughts are one of the top three climate problems (21.5 per cent). Seah from ISEAS said this was probably because the consequences of drought are more directly felt by those living in the countryside.

A farmer picks ears of rice last month, during a drought in Jiangxi province, China. Photo: Reuters

Mid-sized cities across Southeast Asia perceived tropical storms to be in their top three (17.9 per cent), while those in metropolitan cities emphasised sea level rises (15 per cent). Towns across the region remain largely consistent with the general average.

On a scale of 1-10, Southeast Asians rank the likelihood of climate impacts negatively affecting their lives at 7.2. Respondents in the Philippines averaged the highest perception of that likelihood, at 8.4.

Among Asean countries, the Philippines has the strongest sense of urgency in addressing the climate threat.

Food security

Around a third of Southeast Asians (31.2 per cent) feel their food supply is threatened by extreme weather events.

Other significant problems identified by respondents are global supply chain disruptions (25.3 per cent), fewer food exports (19.1 per cent) and degraded farmland (17.6 per cent).

Those living in rural areas tend to express stronger agreement about the threat of extreme weather events (46.8 per cent) followed by degraded farmland (22.1 per cent) to explain threats to food supplies.


‘On the front line’ of climate crisis: Pakistan reeling from floods after severe drought

‘On the front line’ of climate crisis: Pakistan reeling from floods after severe drought

Threat perceptions vary between countries. In Vietnam (66.7 per cent) and Myanmar (53.8 per cent), extreme weather events are seen as very consequential for food supplies while respondents from Singapore (46.2 per cent) and Brunei (47.5 per cent) put more emphasis on global supply chains and reduced food exports.

In Indonesia, degraded farmlands are seen as the greatest source of threat (39.2 per cent).

In Malaysia, labour shortages (14.2 per cent) were ranked as an important factor in food security compared to the rest of the region.

Government responsibility

Many citizens of Southeast Asia perceive governments, businesses and individuals as the top three stakeholders responsible for tackling climate change.

Most residents questioned (65.4 per cent) also think governments should prioritise both mitigation and adaptation measures. More than half think their governments must prioritise climate mitigation, the report said. Myanmar (22.2 per cent), Thailand (18.1 per cent) and Cambodia (17.3 per cent) respondents are the three nations emphasising the strongest views on climate adaptation.

Almost half of Asean respondents (49.3 per cent) believe that their countries’ political parties do not prioritise climate change. Among this group of sceptics, Malaysia (74.2 per cent), Thailand (66.4 per cent), Indonesia (66 per cent), and Philippines (51.7 per cent) respondents widely share this view.

Only Singapore respondents have a greater tendency than other countries in the region to disagree that their country’s political parties do not prioritise climate change (52 per cent).

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Interestingly, the higher the educational attainment of respondents, the more likely they are to hold the view that their countries’ political parties do not prioritise climate change.

For example, 68.9 per cent of respondents with doctoral degrees or equivalent share this view, but only 38.8 per cent of those with primary and secondary degrees agree.

Asean respondents believe that insufficient financial resources (50.9 per cent), a lack of research and development, technology and expertise (50.4 per cent), and insufficient alternative resources (45.7 per cent) are the top three biggest obstacles to decarbonisation in their countries.

Most those from academia, think-tanks, and research institutions (55.3 per cent), however, think that the absence of political will is the most critical challenge.

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Nearly two-fifths of respondents identified the European Union and the United States as global climate leaders.

However, when asked who could play a more proactive role in sharing climate expertise and know-how in their own countries, respondents favoured Japan and the United States over other Asean partners.

Among Asean’s 10 countries, over half of the respondents believe that Singapore has the potential to be the region’s climate leader. Indonesians are more likely to choose their own country for the leadership role.

The survey was conducted online from June 8 to July 12 this year with 1,386 respondents, and with 90.4 per cent of the people questioned expressing deep concern about climate change. Those in the Philippines had the strongest sense of urgency in addressing the climate threat.

The largest group of respondents were those aged between 21 and 35 (44.8 per cent).