In many ways, Asia is on the front-line of climate change; therefore facing more severe risks that will affect lives and economies in the coming decades.
According report published by consulting firm McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) in late November, countries in Asia will be increasingly vulnerable to climate risk without adaptation and mitigation.
With Asia having more people in coastal cities than all other cities in the world combined, sea level rise and severe weather due to climate change will affect more people here than anywhere else.
“By 2050, parts of Asia may see increasing average temperatures, lethal heat waves, extreme precipitation events, severe hurricanes, drought, and changes in water supply,” the report reads.
Major Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam will see extreme increases in heat and humidity by 2050.
The impact on workability will be significant for these countries due to their high percentage of work taking place in outdoor and labor-intensive sectors.
Vietnam, specifically, may face more frequent, dangerous heat conditions three decades from now.
Based on MGI’s report, it means more regular deadly heat events and vastly reduced safe outdoor working hours, a factor compounded in Southeast Asia by fast spreading urbanization.
In fact, Asian economies will possibly lose close to 10 percent daylight work hours by mid-century because of lethal heat waves.
But countries considered as “Frontier Asia” – Bangladesh, India and Pakistan – could see the most extreme increases in heat and humidity. By 2050, their average temperatures are projected to rise by two to four degrees Celsius.
Impact on Agriculture
The effect of climate change also extends to agriculture. In Southeast Asia, yields of essential crops like rice, corn and soy will become more unpredictable. This will domino to prices, which directly affect consumers and the livelihoods of farmers.
Oversupply could affect farmers who may face lower prices for their crops. Under-supply, on the other hand, could lead to food shortages and price spikes.
“The stakes of climate change – and the impact it’s having on people, on economies, on countries – we’re already starting to feel it in significant ways and if we continue on the slow pace we’re on right now, the consequences are going to be devastating, especially for Asia,” said Oliver Tonby, Asia Chairman of McKinsey & Company told Channel News Asia.
Advanced countries such as Australia Japan, New Zealand and South Korea will see slightly lower impacts of climate change. Their agricultural net may even benefit from it, reads the report.
“However, for some countries in the region, the effects on water supply and drought are the main challenges. The share of time spent in drought in southwestern Australia could grow to more than 80 percent by 2050. Typhoon and extreme precipitation risk could also increase in some parts of Japan and South Korea.”
Impact on Infrastructure
Assets and infrastructure services could increasingly come under threat from climate hazards such as severe flooding and wildfires.
Flooding in Tokyo will be more frequent and intense. While the average flood depth in Tokyo could increase 1.7 times by 2050, infrastructure damage would be 2.2 to 2.4 times higher.
In Australia, meanwhile, wildfires could cause substantial damage to different types of infrastructure assets ranging from transportation to energy.
The share of population living in an area with more than ten high fire risk days per year could increase by 46 percent by 2050, from 26 percent today.
Impact on Natural Resources
Climate change is affecting natural capital such as glaciers and ocean systems. This could increasingly affect the services they provide, the report reads.
“Natural capital provides valuable social and economic services to billions of people in the region, and climate change is intensifying the degradation of Asia’s natural capital that is already endangered.”
By 2050, up to 90 percent of coral reefs in the Coral Triangle and the Great Barrier Reef could suffer severe damage degradation under scenarios with two degrees Celsius global mean temperature increase.
The rising ocean temperature in Asia has also already started impacting fishing yield. It will continue to affect marine lives and the people that depend on them. From 1930 to 2010, seafood yields in the Sea of Japan fell by 35 percent.
What Asia can do
Climate science tells us that warming over the next decade is already locked in due to past emissions. And it is already a virtual certainty that Asia will bear its socioeconomic impacts.
Mckinsey Global Institute urges policy makers and business leaders to formulate effective adaptation strategies. The report emphasizes that understanding and tracking intensifying climate risk are keys to creating the most feasible and effective actions to lessen the effects of climate change in Asia.
Much of the region is already taking concrete actions on the challenges of climate change. Asian governments just need to build on its current efforts and get the support from all of its people.
The report also highlights of infrastructure investment to both eradicate poverty and respond to climate change.
The region must invest $1.7 trillion a year in infrastructure through 2030, according to the Asian Development Bank. About 2 percent of this ($40 billion per year) is expected be applied to climate risk adaptation.
But while adaptation is critical, it is not sufficient. Achieving zero net greenhouse gas emissions is the only way to slow down global warming.
“Asia has a key role to play in global mitigation efforts. Its share of global greenhouse gas emissions has grown to 45 percent in the past 30 years from about 25 percent.
Given the substantial share of emissions from Asia as well as its expected economic and corresponding emissions growth, decisions made in Asia today will be a critical determinant of the global emissions pathway.”
Decarbonizing road transportation, buildings and industrial operations, as well as agriculture and forestry can significantly reduce emissions.
“While we recognize that the challenges are large, Asia is well positioned to meet the challenges and capture the opportunities,” the report concluded.