NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 16

The growing threat of climate change

Climate change is no longer an imaginary hobgoblin but a real threat. According to various international studies, South Asia is now facing a catastrophic challenge of climate change. It threatens to slow the region’s economic growth, depress standards of living, increase the threat of devastation and death, and possibly even aggravate intraregional conflict. Some analysts call climate change a “catalyst for conflict.”

Climate change is a worldwide phenomenon but South Asia is particularly vulnerable, because of the prevailing low standards of living, the continuing importance of agriculture for employment and the peculiar weather system created by the Himalayas and the warm, moist waters of the Indian Ocean.

It is estimated that the total climate change cost in South Asia will increase over time and would be excessively high in the long term. Resultantly, South Asia could lose an equivalent 10.8 per cent of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050, which will progressively increase to 8.8 per cent in later years.

Experts say if nothing is done to slow or reverse climate change, the global economy could lose 2.6 per cent per year by 2100. Scientific research has found a causal link between South Asia’s brown cloud and the increased intensity of cyclones in the northern Indian Ocean region. Warmer seas will generate more and larger storms with severe adverse impact on economic growth. Higher temperatures eventually reduce yields of desirable crops while encouraging weed and pest proliferation.

There is a strong likelihood of short-run crop failures and long-run production declines, posing a serious threat to food security. Climate change can affect energy generation too – especially hydropower and thermal – and demand. Cyclones and floods damage infrastructure. The coastal fisheries, forests, salt, minerals, export processing, harbours and airports on the coastal zones are also at risk.

Worse still, climate change will increase the costs of production of essentials, like water, electricity and land for all domestic goods or exports, like garments. Livelihoods will become more precarious, especially in coastal areas and industries, like farming. Water, energy, and food supplies will become more uncertain – and possibly more costly.

Climate change will also affect the health sector. Deaths from dengue and malaria and other water-borne diseases are likely to rise, particularly during the monsoon months and extreme weather may force migration as people move to safer, more secure areas of their country. South Asia, like other regions, suffers from greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere from everywhere around the planet. The huge increase in air pollution across the subcontinent over the last 60 years has created a huge brown cloud of particulate matter over the region.

As is well known, India is already the world’s third largest producer of greenhouse gases, and its carbon emissions are expected to more than triple within the next twenty years. Scientific research has found a causal link between South Asia’s brown cloud and the increased intensity of cyclones in the northern Indian Ocean region. Warmer seas will generate more and larger storms. The storms, combined with higher sea levels and shallow marine topography, will increase the destructiveness of storm surges. Countries, like Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, are likely to be the most seriously affected.

It may be recalled here that the fifth report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.

All sectors of the economy must be prepared to withstand climate change. In agriculture, for example, new technologies such as rice cultivation systems with more efficient water and nutrient use should be promoted. Altering planting times, using resistant varieties, and diversifying crops can also help. Countries need to look at better management of resources and services. Better coastal zone management, efforts to protect river banks from erosion and building climate-proofed roads, bridges and other infrastructure is needed.

In the water sector, groundwater should be protected. Better water management and use of recycled water can also help. Better living conditions, better emergency responses, and better surveillance and monitoring of diseases are other remedial measures.

There is an urgent need for increased inter-nation cooperation to share resources and knowledge to meet the threat of climate change. More efficient regional economic diversification can create entirely new patterns and supporting infrastructure to tackle the emerging situation. We can build resilience to the impacts of climate change by identifying the risks and vulnerabilities of different sectors and putting in place mitigation measures that are environmentally sound.