Food and water shortages are likely to increase in Asia unless action is taken to curb the rise in greenhouse gases according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Increasing temperatures and extreme weather patterns are already taking their toll on crop yields which are declining in many parts of the Continent.
Future climate change is expected to put close to 50 million extra people at risk of hunger by 2020 rising to an additional 132 million and 266 million by 2050 and 2080 respectively, says the report of IPCC Working Group II.
Indeed temperatures could rise by up to five degrees C by 2080 unless emissions are decisively reduced, the report adds. It suggests that a 2°C increase in mean air temperature could decrease rain-fed rice yields by 5-12% in China and under one scenario net cereal production in South Asian countries is projected to decline by 4 to 10% by the end of this century. In Bangladesh, production of rice may fall by just under ten% and wheat by a third by the year 2050.
Achim Steiner, Executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which is a co-founder of the IPCC, said: “Unchecked climate change will be an environmental and economic catastrophe but above all it will be a human tragedy. Seven of the world’s most populous countries are located in Asia and future population growth over the next 50 years is projected to increase India, Pakistan and Bangladesh’s populations by 570 million, 200 million and 130 million respectively”.
“It is absolutely vital that international action is taken now to avoid dangerous climate change. Otherwise the consequences for food and water security in Asia, as for many other parts of the world are too alarming to contemplate,” he added.
“Action however cannot be confined to curbing greenhouse gases. Some level of climate change is inevitable as a result of pollution already in the atmosphere. Therefore action is also needed at the national level to mainstream ‘climate proofing’ into all areas of economic life so that countries and communities in the region have a chance to adapt and thus a chance to avoid some of the more extreme impacts,” said Steiner.
Water stress is cited as one of the most pressing environmental problem facing the region, particularly in South and Southeast Asia where the number of people living under water stress is expected to increase substantially. In India, “gross per capita water availability” will decline from around 1,820 cubic metres a year to as low as around 1,140 cubic metres a year in 2050.
“Freshwater availability in Central, South and East and Southeast Asia particularly in large river basins such as Changjiang is likely to decrease due to climate change, along with population growth and rising standard of living, which could adversely affect more than a billion people in Asia by the 2050s,” the report stated.
Meanwhile, some regions are likely to see more frequent and heavier rainfall including western China, the Changjiang Valley and the southeastern coast of China, the Arabian Peninsula, Bangladesh and along the western coasts of the Philippines. These could lead to severe flooding and increased risks from landslides and mud flows.
Himalayan glaciers are receding faster than in any other part of the world. Half a billion people in the Himalaya-Hindu-Kush region and a quarter billion downstream who rely on glacial melt waters could be seriously affected.
Glaciers in these areas could, at current rates of global warming, disappear altogether by 2035, if not sooner.
The current trends in glacial melt suggest that the Ganga, Indus, Brahmaputra and other rivers that criss-cross the northern Indian plain may become seasonal rivers in the near future as a consequence of climate change with important ramifications for poverty and the economies in the region.
Coastal populations are also vulnerable to sea level rise. The current level of sea level rise in coastal areas of Asia is reported to be between 1 to 3 mm annually, slightly higher than the global average.
“Projected sea level rise could flood the residence of millions of people living in the low lying areas of South, Southeast and East Asia such as in Vietnam, Bangladesh, India and China. Even under the most conservative scenario, sea level will be about 40 cm higher than today by the end of 21st century and this is projected to increase the annual number of people flooded in coastal population from 13 million to 94 million,” the report states.
Almost 60% of this increase will occur in South Asia (along coasts from Pakistan, through India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to Burma), while about 20% will occur in Southeast Asia specifically from Thailand to Vietnam including Indonesia and the Philippines.
This impact could be more pronounced in megacities located in megadeltas such as in Bangkok, Shanghai, and Tianjin, where natural ground subsidence is enhanced by human activities.
Nearly half of Asia’s biodiversity is at risk because of climate change.
“Climate change is likely to affect forest expansion and migration, and exacerbate threats to biodiversity resulting from land use/cover change and population pressure in most of Asia. Marine and coastal ecosystems in Asia are likely to be affected by sea level rise and temperature increases,” the report added.
Food insecurity and loss of livelihood are likely to be further exacerbated by the loss of cultivated land and nursery areas for fisheries by inundation and coastal erosion in low-lying areas of tropical Asia.
Human health will also be adversely affected. Rising temperatures and rainfall variability had led to more climate-induced diseases and heat stress in Central, East, South and Southeast Asia.
Increases in illness and mortality resulting from diarrhoeal disease are expected in South and Southeast Asia. Warmer temperatures in coastal waters would exacerbate the abundance and/or toxicity of cholera in South Asia.
“Multiple stresses in Asia will be compounded further due to climate change. It is likely that climate change will impinge on sustainable development of most developing countries of Asia as it compounds the pressures on natural resources and the environment associated with rapid urbanisation, industrialisation, and economic development,” the report said.
While development to a large extent is responsible for much of the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere that drives climate change, development can also greatly contribute to reducing vulnerability to climate change and enhancing the adaptive capacity of vulnerable sectors. The report calls for the mainstreaming of sustainable development policies and including climate proofing concept in national development initiatives.
It suggests improvements in public food distribution, disaster preparedness and management, and health care systems to enhance social capital and reduce the vulnerability of developing countries of Asia to climate change.
Adaptation measures to deal with sea-level rise, potentially more intense cyclones and threats to ecosystems and biodiversity are also highly recommended.
Management options, such as better stock management and more integrated agro-ecosystems could likely improve land conditions and reduce pressures arising from climate change, the report added.
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by United Nations Environment Programme.