Climate change in Southeast Asia: Where are we and what are our goals?

In this Photo file, Typhoon ‘Odette’ flooded 60 percent of Kabankalan City on Friday morning, December 17, 2021, when heavy rain caused the main waterway to overflow. PHOTO CONTRIBUTIONS

First of 2 parts

KUALA LUMPUR: It is becoming increasingly clear that human health and well-being are threatened everywhere due to global warming and environmental degradation. Extreme weather events, sea level rise, increasing freshwater scarcity, drought and high temperatures, combined with loss of biodiversity and other aspects of ecological degradation such as soil erosion and coral bleaching are anthropogenic traits that are self-defeating and an increasingly inhospitable planet. for human society.

The 2015 Paris Agreement set a target to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. We are now at 1.1 C warming. A special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a bleak picture of what we will face if we reach 1.5C warming.

Most importantly, failure to limit global warming to 1.5 C could result in the planet being pushed past a number of tipping points that would lead to accelerated and irreversible warming, with multiple cascade effects (e.g., loss of polar ice caps and massive deaths from Amazon rainforest) that will see billions of people face an existential crisis.

Not worrying or exaggerating

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Such concerns are neither worrisome nor exaggerated. The latest collection of Assessment Reports by the IPCC, released over the last few months, provides clear evidence that we are in trouble. Among other things, he projects that the global average surface temperature will most likely reach 1.5C above the pre-industrial average by 2040.

This year’s World Environment Day theme — “Only One Earth” — aptly demonstrates that all of humanity is equally dependent on one planet. Perhaps nothing is more emblematic of the need for global solidarity and international cooperation than the planetary crisis we face. However, there are also regional differences in the impact that will be experienced and the contribution that can be made to preventing crises.

So, what can be said about Southeast Asia?

First, in line with the trend of global warming and the continued increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the region has experienced an annual average temperature increase at a rate of 0.14 C to 0.20 C per decade since the 1960s. It is hotter than ever and the region can expect further temperature increases. Southeast Asia is also expected to experience an increase in the frequency of heat waves.

High humidity in the region will add to the high temperatures and increase the incidence of heatstroke and heat-related deaths. According to one study, heat-related deaths have increased by 61 percent in Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines since the 1990s.

Higher temperatures and heat stress at 3°C ​​warming are expected to reduce agricultural labor capacity by up to 50 percent and reduce agricultural productivity and food production. According to one study, this would lead to a 5 percent increase in crop prices from increased labor costs and lost production.

Malnutrition, rainfall patterns

Malnutrition rates are likely to rise in the region, especially as crop production in other parts of the world is under pressure. An example is the 2015-2016 El-Niño drought in Southeast Asia, East and South Africa which left 20.5 million people facing acute food insecurity in 2016 and 5.9 million children were underweight. Increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will also reduce the nutritional quality of certain plants and increase the likelihood of greater micronutrient deficiencies.

Higher energy and humidity levels in the atmosphere, generated by global warming, will cause changes in rainfall patterns. Increases in average annual rainfall have been observed in parts of Malaysia, Vietnam and the southern Philippines.

Paradoxically, some parts of the region will observe a reduction in the number of wet days. According to the IPCC, the Philippines has observed fewer tropical cyclones, but more intense and destructive ones.

Changes in the hydrological cycle will also have an impact on the availability of fresh water and damage water security in the area. This in turn will lead to related health problems due to lower levels of sanitation and hygiene.

In the Mekong River basin, due to climate change and unsustainable levels of water consumption, it is estimated that groundwater storage will decrease by up to 160 million cubic meters and this will be accompanied by delta erosion and sea level rise, affecting coastal cities such as Bangkok and Ho City. Chi Minh.

Three-quarters of Southeast Asian cities will experience flooding more frequently, potentially affecting tens of millions of people annually by 2030. In 2019, Southeast and East Asia recorded an internal displacement of 9.6 million people from hurricanes, floods and hurricanes. , representing nearly 30 percent of all global displacement in that year. IPS

To be continued on Monday, June 6, 2022.

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

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