Heat waves, floods, and droughts affect every aspect of life, from nutrition and health, to safety and income.
Unlike developed countries, many nations in Asia and the Pacific cope with the effects of climate change while at the same time trying to raise living standards.
While Asia-Pacific’s poorer communities contribute the least to greenhouse gas emissions, they are the ones feeling the consequences of climate change the most. Unpredictable weather patterns can lead to failing crops, spiking food prices, and spreading diseases that threaten to wipe out decades of development gains.
How does climate change affect Asia and the Pacific and its people?
Everyone has heard about sea level rise in the context of climate change; warmer temperatures lead to thermal expansion of water, melting glaciers and disappearing ice sheets causing the average sea level to rise.
Why is that a problem? Scientists predict that by the end of this century the sea level could rise by 65cm (2.1ft). Given Asia-Pacific’s topography, this poses an existential threat to many countries in the region.
Half of Asia’s population, about 2.4 billion people, live in low-lying coastal areas. Rising seas threaten to intensify floods and storms and degrade land through increased salination. On average, 43,000 people in Asia-Pacific are killed in storms, floods, and landslides each year.
This year, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Nepal experienced deadly floods and landslides. Vietnam and India have been severely hit by tropical storms. These erratic weather patterns not only take lives but also displace people, destroy infrastructure, contaminate fresh water, crush ecosystems, and wipe out agricultural land.
As millions of people across Asia and the Pacific depend on natural resources for food and income, the damage caused is enormous. It is estimated that disasters cost the region around US$ 675 billion every year.
Many countries across the region are experiencing unusually hot temperatures. Pakistan and India have already seen blistering temperatures above 50°C this year. 2019 is on track to become the hottest year on record.
Higher temperatures jeopardize human health. Heatstroke, heart attacks, and strokes become more frequent; mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever spread more easily.
Heatwaves and droughts can also topple food security. Shifting rainfall patterns and higher temperatures affect agricultural productivity. Low crop yields and high food prices make it harder and harder for people to feed their families.
In Asia and the Pacific, more than 60 percent of people work in sectors highly susceptible to changing weather patterns. Millions of people who rely on natural resources for food and work bear the brunt of climate change.
While efforts to conserve and restore coral reefs can help in the short-term, dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the only viable option for protecting our ocean and the people that depend on it for a living.
Looking to the future
Climate change is the challenge of our time. In Asia-Pacific, millions of lives are on the line.
One thing is clear: We need to cut our emissions in half by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2050.
Getting there will not be easy. We must make dramatic changes to our production and consumption patterns as well as transform our energy, transport, and land-use.
The next 16 months will shape our actions for years to come and determine the future of our planet and people. The UN Climate Action Summit and the UN climate change negotiations, COP25 (2019) and COP26 (2020), will be our chance to bend the curve for climate change.