September 17, 2015
I recently attended the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), Climate Change Seminar for East Asia in Hong Kong and spoke about East Asia risks. Before I did that, all of the East Asian Bishops who attended, readily agreed to endorse and sign the GCCM climate petition that asks world leaders to keep global average temperatures within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. The GCCM petition was also signed by Cardinal Oscar Gracias, the President of the Federation of Asian Bishop Conferences (FABC).
Asia is at serious risk of climate change and this year we have seen a series of unusual weather events across Asia including: deadly heat waves in India and Pakistan, widespread drought in Cambodia, Indonesia, and Vietnam, and water rationing in Thailand.
Climate scientists have confirmed that these extremes this year, are compounded by an emerging period of El Niño, a periodic weather event characterized by warming ocean temperatures. El Niño is expected to last well into 2016 leading to energy, food and water insecurity, Asian countries need to take measures to mitigate and adapt their impact- especially for the poor and for coastal areas that may have flimsy infrastructure. While the effects of El Niño are global and widespread, it is hitting Asian countries the hardest. Last week, Typhoon Etau in Japan produced winds of up to 125km/h (78mph) and forced more than 90,000+ people to evacuate their homes after Kinugawa River burst its banks causing heavy flooding.
The double whammy of climate change and El Nino will increase sea-level rise, storm surge, flooding and drought and many cities globally are at threat.
In Asia, the risk is particularly acute as many cities are highly dense, with large populations and rapid urbanisation has cemented over green zones leading to a reduction of natural buffers (such as wetlands) and accelerated land erosion. Many Asian cities have poor drainage and flimsy flooding infrastructure. According to the World Bank’s ‘Future flood losses in major coastal cities’ research -flooding could cost cities every year by 2050 nearly US$1 trillion, of this price tag damage to buildings is an significant cost component and land subsidence will account for high share of the damage.
Swiss Re the insurance company has an annual risk index on extreme weather and in 2014, cities that it listed as the most vulnerable to flooding and storm surges globally were: 1. Pearl River Delta – Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Donguan, Macau and Guangzhou, 2. Osaka-Kobe, Japan, 3. Mumbai, India, 4. Tokyo-Yokohama, Japan, 5. Amsterdam-Rotterdam, Netherlands, 6. Nagoya, Japan, 7. Shanghai, China, 8. Kolkata, India, 9. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and 10. New York-Newark, USA. When ranked by vulnerability to river flooding, Swiss Re’s top 10 (2014) list changes, although: 1. Pearl River Delta stays on top, 2. Shanghai, China, 3. Kolkata, India 4. Jakarta, Indonesia, 5. Delhi, India 6. Tokyo-Yokohama, Japan, 7. Bangkok, Thailand 8. Mexico City, Mexico 9. Cairo, Egypt and 10. Tianjin, China
Worryingly, many people in Asia are not aware that climate change poses a significant threat to their families, homes, livelihoods and future economic growth. In many cities across Asia there is a limited capacity to identify their vulnerabilities and there is a lack of coordinated planning on pathways to adapt, along with limited expertise to make changes and a lack of institutional and funding capacity. Meanwhile, the UN estimates that nearly 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050 and in just a decade – 21 out of 37 of the world’s megacities will be in Asia. In 2010, world leaders agreed on the operationalization of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help finance adaptation and mitigation and a 2020 goal of raising US$100 billion each year from public and private sources to help developing countries deal with climate change. Yet, many experts warn that US$100 bilion is not enough. Typhoon Haiyan, which swept through the Philippines in 2013, killed over 6,000 people and cost more than US$10 billion. The Asian Development Bank (2014) estimates the annual price tag of coastal flooding will be US$53.8 billion and the number of people at risk of coastal flooding will rise to 410 million by 2025.
So far, the money has been slow in coming – 33 governments, including 8 developing countries have pledged close to US$10.2 billion and French President Francois Hollande recently said that without the US$100 billion, there will be no deal at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris in December.
With under 90 days to go until COP 21 and with rich nations enjoying a joint GDP somewhere in the region of US$50 trillion and global market capitalisation of US$294 trillion – clearly the issue is not a lack of funds, but rather a lack of will. Other key ways for governments to free up funding to help achieve the target is by “putting a price on carbon” – through carbon taxes or emission trading schemes – and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. The elimination of fossil fuel subsidies would also make a significant contribution to the goal of keeping average temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Globally, all countries need to strengthen their adaptive and resilience capacity and there needs to be better weather forecasting, climate modelling and better risk and disaster management plans. No city is safe from natural hazards, but they can be more resilient. As Asian urban powerhouses advance, their fortitude and growth will be at the heart of the world’s most important social and economic advancements and challenges. Let’s hope more money comes forward soon.
Written by Ciara Shannon, a GCCM co-founder and OurVoices Regional Asia Coordinator
 By rising temperatures, water security, sea-level rises, storm surges, extreme weather events, inland and coastal flooding, drought and food security issues.