Climate change in Southeast Asia: where are we and where are we going?

In this photo file, Typhoon ‘Odette’ leaves 60% of the town of Kabankalan under flood waters on Friday morning, December 17, 2021, as heavy rains caused major waterways to overflow. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

First of 2 parts

KUALA LUMPUR: There is growing evidence that human health and well-being are under threat everywhere from global warming and environmental damage. Extreme weather events, sea level rise, increasing scarcity of fresh water, drought and high temperatures, combined with loss of biodiversity and other aspects of ecological degradation such as erosion soil and coral bleaching, are all hallmarks of anthropogenic self-harm and a planet increasingly inhospitable to human society.

The 2015 Paris Agreement set a goal of limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. We are now at 1.1 C of warming. A special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a grim picture of what we would face if we reached 1.5°C of warming.

Fundamentally, failure to limit global warming to 1.5°C could cause the planet to push through a number of tipping points that would see accelerated and irreversible warming, with a variety of cascading effects (eg. example, the loss of the polar ice caps and the massive dieback of the Amazon rainforest) that would see billions of people facing an existential crisis.

Neither alarmist nor exaggerated

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These concerns are neither alarmist nor exaggerated. The most recent set of IPCC Assessment Reports, released in the past few months, present clear evidence that we are in trouble. Among other things, it predicts that average global surface temperatures will most likely reach 1.5°C above pre-industrial averages before 2040.

The theme of this year’s World Environment Day – “One Earth” – rightly emphasizes that all of humanity shares a common dependence on one planet. Nothing is perhaps more emblematic of the need for global solidarity and international cooperation than the planetary crisis we are facing. However, there are also regional differences in terms of the impacts that will be felt and the contributions that can be made to avert the crisis.

So what about Southeast Asia?

On the one hand, in line with global warming trends and the continued increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the region has seen its annual average temperature increase at a rate of 0.14 C to 0.20 C per decade since the 1960s. It is warmer than before and the region can expect further temperature increases. Southeast Asia is also expected to experience an increased frequency of heat waves.

The region’s high humidity will aggravate the high temperatures and increase the incidence of heatstroke and heat-related deaths. According to a study, heat-related mortality has already increased by 61% in Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines since the 1990s.

Higher temperatures and heat stress at 3°C ​​are expected to reduce agricultural labor capacity by up to 50% and reduce agricultural productivity and food production. According to a study, this will lead to a 5% increase in crop prices due to increased labor cost and loss of production.

Malnutrition, rainfall patterns

Malnutrition rates are likely to rise in the region, especially as agricultural production in other parts of the world comes under strain. An example is the El-Niño-induced drought of 2015-2016 in Southeast Asia, Eastern and Southern Africa, which left 20.5 million people facing acute food insecurity in 2016 and 5.9 million children were underweight. Increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere will also reduce the nutritional quality of some crops and increase the likelihood of greater micronutrient deficiency.

The higher levels of energy and moisture in the atmosphere produced by global warming will result in altered precipitation patterns. An increase in annual average rainfall has already been observed in parts of Malaysia, Vietnam and the southern Philippines.

Paradoxically, some parts of the region would see a decrease in the number of wet days. According to the IPCC, the Philippines had seen fewer tropical cyclones, but they were more intense and destructive.

Changes in the hydrological cycle will also impact the availability of fresh water and compromise water security in the region. This will in turn lead to associated health problems due to lower levels of sanitation and hygiene.

In the Mekong basin, due to both climate change and unsustainable water consumption levels, groundwater storage is expected to reduce up to 160 million cubic meters and this will be accompanied by erosion of the delta and a rise in sea level, affecting coastal cities. like Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City.

Three-quarters of cities in Southeast Asia will experience more frequent flooding, potentially affecting tens of millions of people every year by 2030. In 2019, Southeast and East Asia already had recorded the internal displacement of 9.6 million people as a result of cyclones, floods and typhoons. , accounting for nearly 30% of all global travel that year. IPS

To be continued on Monday, June 6, 2022.

Kwan Soo-Chen is a postdoctoral fellow and David McCoy is director of research at the United Nations University’s International Institute for Global Health (UNU-IIGH).

Teresa H. Sadler