This year will be the world’s tenth warmest on record since 1850, and the highest ever in a year which experienced a La Niña event, a meteorological phenomenon which is supposed to have a cooling influence on Earth’s atmosphere, a United Nations agency reported this week.
The report was released today in The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban, South Africa, (from November 28 –December 9, 2011), where thousands of representatives from governments, international organizations and civil society are meeting to advance ways to cut global carbon emissions and pollution.
Geography compounded with high levels of poverty and population density has rendered Asia and the Pacific countries especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change with increase in temperature. Climate change means the region faces scary climate-related challenges.
Asia and the Pacific, with over 50% of the world’s population and two-thirds of its poor, is deeply vulnerable to climate change-linked events such as rising sea levels by melting of ice and glaciers and increasingly severe droughts and floods by disturbance of water cycle due to severe increase in heat.
The effects of global warming are iniquitous; poor and developing countries suffer disproportionately due to their geographical presence.
Asia and the Pacific had seen more than 30 million people displaced by environmental disasters in 2010, according to data from the ADB (Asian Development Bank) and Reuters. The region is home to more than 4 billion people. Recent floods in Cambodia, Pakistan, Philippines, the People Republic of China (PRC) and Thailand offer a somber lesson. The last two countries were badly affected more by 2008 flood also.
Thailand’s recent flooding has been described as its worst in over 50 years. There have been over 600 reported deaths and over 3 million people affected. About 900 factories in industrial areas north of Bangkok have been swamped, disrupting supply chains of international firms such as Toyota Motor Corp, Sony Corp and Lenovo Group Ltd. It is estimated the country’s gross domestic product could decline by up to 2% as a result of the devastation.
The region also accounted for 34 percent of recorded disasters, 90 percent of people affected, 32 percent of deaths and 33 percent of economic losses worldwide from natural disasters from 2005 to 2010.
In neighboring Cambodia, the deadliest floods since 2000 have killed at least 247 people while more than 100 have died in Vietnam, mostly in the southern Mekong Delta.
More than five million Pakistanis are now estimated to require humanitarian assistance as a result of this year’s floods. They are mainly in Sindh and Balochistan provinces, with 25 per cent of them women and 50 per cent children.
Almost 800,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged in the floods, which began in August, and nearly 750,000 people were still displaced at the end of October.
Sea-level rise represents an existential threat to many small island nations also. Being land scarce and low lying, they are exposed to the risks of intensifying weather events such as damage caused by inundation, extreme winds, and flooding from storms. The United Nations estimates that by 2020, 13 of the world’s 25 mega cities, most of them situated in low-lying coastal areas, will be in Asia and the Pacific. In many mega cities, more than half the population is crowded into densely populated slums that are at risk from flooding and where settlements lack basic protective infrastructure.
As climate-related risks intensify, there will be a need to respond proactively to build resilience through preclusion and attentiveness rather than through relief and response. Cities can minimize the risk of destructive floods, by improving drainage and sanitation systems and imposing a solid waste management scheme that promotes efficient garbage collection and reduces the use of plastics. Governments need to develop integrated urban plans that address urgent issues on water supply, flooding, transportation, and solid waste, a climate change.
But what do governments do in a proactive way to inform their citizens about climate change. Under Article 6 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – which was agreed in 1992 and entered into force in 1994 - nearly 200 governments agreed to promote actions to develop and implement “educational and public awareness programs on climate change and its effects”.