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The Impact of Climate Change on ASEAN

The Himalayas hold the world’s largest amount of glaciers outside of the
polar regions. The gradual melting of this ice provides the water for
seven of Asia’s greatest rivers, including the Yangtze, the Yellow, the
Ganges, the Indus, the Brahmaputra and, in ASEAN, the Salween and the
Mekong, Some fifty million people rely on the River Mekong for food or
income in some way.

Owing to global warming and severe changes in the
patterns of trade winds and monsoon winds, these glaciers are now receding
at an unprecedented rate and will, if current conditions continue, have
disappeared completely within two generations. This will lead to increased
flow of the rivers which will in turn lead to flooding downstream
especially in deforested areas, together with landslides and mudflows.

Already in 2007, floods in central and northern Thailand dispossessed some
farmers completely and this led to a number of suicides. Flooding on a
scale never previously seen will lead to significant social upheaval and
unrest. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that
these problems will lead to a 5-9% decrease in GDP in affected developing

The floods will also result in the spread of disease, particularly
water-borne diseases including cholera and diarrhea. Other diseases will
also flourish. However, after about 30 years, the flooding will end
because the Himalayan glaciers will have disappeared. In the immediate
vicinity of the mountains, rock falls and avalanches are likely to be
serious problems but, for downstream river areas, the more significant
problem is likely to be the decreased flow of water and loss of livelihood
for those relying on the rivers. Although increases in agricultural
productivity in ASEAN are likely to improve current yields by up to 30%,
this will be more than offset by continued increases in population and

The result will be severe risk of hunger for millions of
ASEAN’s urban dwellers. Increased coastal water temperatures are likely to
affect existing marine ecologies in unpredictable ways, reducing the value
of existing fisheries and shrimp farms. Rising sea levels threaten
numerous coastal communities and cities and many will need to be relocated

Many small islands at a low elevation will become uninhabitable.
The Maldives Islands, for example, may have to be abandoned completely.
These changes will occur on the basis of current trends. At the time of
writing, it seems unlikely that the major nations, as represented by the
G8 meeting, will be able to establish an agreement and framework to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions to the extent necessary to decelerate the impact
of global warming. It is vital that this happen and that other leading
polluters are also brought into the programme. If this does not happen,
then countries will simply announce that they will or will not abide by
arbitrary targets without being accountable to them.

China recently released details of its own policies towards tackling
environmental change. Chinese people have a carbon footprint of only one
fifth that of Americans and one third of Europeans but the enormous
population and the relentless drive towards economic development have
meant that China nevertheless represents a growing contributor to
greenhouse gas emissions. A great deal can be achieved in China in terms
of improving the efficiency of energy production and distribution, which
currently is seven times as inefficient as a country such as Japan. In
China and across ASEAN, there are numerous opportunities for firms to
seize opportunities to introduce new forms of clean energy and more
efficient and cleaner forms of production in a wide range of sectors. Once
there are definite, well-policed and transparent incentives for states and
businesses to abide by coherent regulations, then new markets will open up
and new opportunities will emerge.

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