Unmitigated climate change as predicted for a world where we do not keep warming below 1.5°C to 2°C will bring “devastating consequences” to the Asia Pacific region, hamper future growth, reverse development gains, and degrade quality of life for millions.
These are the key findings from a new report published this week by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). The new report, A Region at Risk: The Human Dimensions of Climate Change in Asia and the Pacific, explains that the Asia and Pacific regions are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and “unabated warming” could wreak havoc, significantly undoing any achievements and progress of economic development and improvements in living standards. On the plus side, however, the report concludes that the region has the economic capacity and the weight of influence to shift from its present reliance upon fossil fuels and transition to a pathway aimed at curbing global emissions.
The report is based on the theory that unabated climate change across the Asia Pacific region — climate change under a business-as-usual scenario — would see temperatures increase by more than 6°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century over some parts of the Asian landmass. This might sound different to the predictions that are widely publicized, but as the report explains, local temperatures will sometimes spike, and deviate significantly from the mean global changes. In fact, some climate models predict that stronger summertime warming over higher latitudes of Asia could in fact see temperature increases reach up to 8°C.
Under the business-as-usual scenario, the report explains that heat extremes that are considered abnormal today, might become the new normal from 2070 onward, and some areas — such as specifically in Southeast Asia — could enter into completely new climate regimes due to the frequent occurrence of unprecedented heat extremes. However, limiting global warming to 2°C would “significantly lower the risk of severe heat extremes” in Asia, while keeping global warming to below 1.5°C would halve the percentage of Asian land areas expected to experience heat extremes, as compared to a 2°C world.
These are only a handful of conclusions made in the report, which expands to deal with changes to precipitation, sea-level rise, glaciers and rivers, tropical cyclones, agriculture across the region, fishers and reef ecosystems, migration concerns, cities and health, and security concerns; all of which highlights just how widespread and varying the damage unmitigated climate change would impose on the region.
“The global climate crisis is arguably the biggest challenge human civilization faces in the 21st century, with the Asia and Pacific region at the heart of it all,” said Bambang Susantono, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development. “Home to two-thirds of the world’s poor and regarded as one of the most vulnerable region to climate change, countries in Asia and the Pacific are at the highest risk of plummeting into deeper poverty — and disaster — if mitigation and adaptation efforts are not quickly and strongly implemented.”
“The Asian countries hold Earth’s future in their hands,” added Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, PIK Director.
“If they choose to protect themselves against dangerous climate change, they will help to save the entire planet. The challenge is twofold. On the one hand, Asian greenhouse-gas emissions have to be reduced in a way that the global community can limit planetary warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, as agreed in Paris 2015. Yet even adapting to 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise is a major task. So, on the other hand, Asian countries have to find strategies for ensuring prosperity and security under unavoidable climate change within a healthy global development. But note that leading the clean industrial revolution will provide Asia with unprecedented economic opportunities. And exploring the best strategies to absorb the shocks of environmental change will make Asia a crucial actor in 21st-century multilateralism.”
Maybe most concerning is the impact climate change would have on the security of the region, considering just how impactful unmitigated climate change would be on energy resources, natural resources, and poverty across the region — all of which act as significant variables in the generation of security conflicts. Further, the inherent vulnerability to climate change will itself act as a contributor and drive future security instability.
An aspect of this is the importance of energy security — which is to say, securing energy supplies which, when missing, can exacerbate human security issues. In Asia, specifically, there are significant concerns about energy security, when you consider grid infrastructure failure, intermittent hydropower performance as a result of unreliable water sourcing, which also impacts the reliability of thermal power plants with the potential of increasing water scarcity. On top of that is the potential of relying too heavily on fossil fuel power plants which could quickly become stranded assets.
Asia’s energy demand will only increase with continued population growth, but if these larger factors are not addressed, potential conflicts will follow.
The Asia Pacific region certainly hold a lot of its future in its hands — given that it simply must begin to transition to a low-carbon economy and shift away from fossil fuel reliance. There are significant opportunities present, and already being exploited in countries like China and India, for the significant growth of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures across the region. As Professor Schellnhuber said, Asia holds “Earth’s future in their hands.” but to overlook the role that Western nations must play in supporting and investing in Asia’s future is disinguous, and the two must be coupled if Asia is to move forward and successfully avoid the cataclysmic scenarios painted above.