At one point in 2020, one third of Bangladesh was under water. While flooding during the monsoon season is not out of the ordinary in Bangladesh, a delta nation, in recent years, the frequency and intensity of abnormal floods have increased and caused serious damage to property and lives. Just like Bangladesh, countries in east, south-east, and south Asia have had millions displaced and hundreds killed due to extreme rainfall and flooding. Models consistently predict that climate change in Asia will manifest into more intense flooding and rainy seasons.
While the impacts of climate change are being felt all around the world, climate change experts have recognised that Asia will be the hardest hit, not only in terms of the natural disasters that occur but also in terms of the population that will be affected. Low-lying and crowded cities in many south and southeast Asian countries are highest at risk, and the millions of people living there are particularly vulnerable. South and Southeast Asia are particularly one of the most flood vulnerable regions in the world. Floods occur often, triggered by heavy monsoon seasons, and cause immense damage to people’s lives, property, crops and infrastructure. Relatively small changes in the climate can cause large problems for these flood vulnerable areas. Climate change may affect many of the variables associated with flooding.
First, the onset and departure dates of monsoons may shift. Currently, the monsoon season stretches from June to September. In the future, there is a possibility of heightened variability in the onset or departure of monsoons in a warmer climate. Secondly, there is also a large possibility of changes in extreme rainfall. An increase in extreme precipitation over the region has been projected. Most climate change models have predicted that rainfall intensity and wet spells are likely to increase with the increase of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. This would occur as air over land will warm more than air over oceans, resulting in intense monsoons.
The Asian Development Bank has predicted that Southeast Asia will suffer losses larger than most other regions in the world. Under a business-as-usual scenario, climate change could reduce the region’s GDP by 11%, impacting key industries such as agriculture, tourism, fishing, health and labour productivity. Without technological advancements, rice yields in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam could be reduced by almost 50% by 2100 from 1990 levels.
Similar impacts to the main economic sectors can be expected in South Asia. For example, in an average year, flood-related costs in Bangladesh are approximately US$175 million. However, in extreme cases, these costs can exceed $2 billion, estimated from the 1998 flood when more than 70% of the country was under water. More intense and frequent flooding will put extensive pressure on the country’s economy, which is already put under strain with the current intensity of floods.
Can Asia Avoid The Pitfalls of Flooding?
However, countries in Asia are well-positioned to address these challenges and mitigate climate change effectively. With urban areas still being built in many parts of Asia, it gives the region an opportunity to ensure more resilient infrastructure is designed to withstand the heightened risk that comes with climate change. Furthermore, larger economies such as China and Japan are leading the world in renewable technologies, such as electric vehicles and clean energy. However, climate scientists have theorised that warming over the next decade due to past emissions is inevitable, suggesting that socioeconomic impacts are essentially a certainty across Asia.
A McKinsey study highlights the necessary steps that can be taken to deal with climate change through policy and formulating adaptation strategies. The first step is to understand and track intensifying climate risk, necessary to acquire to determine appropriate responses. Then, measures need to be taken to protect people and assets, which could include building both green and gray defenses. However, while adaptation is critical, it is not sufficient. To achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, it is important to also make the shift from coal-powered energy to renewables. While Asia has large opportunities to accelerate decarbonisation, given its critical mass of regional production capacity and scale to drive down cost of renewables, it comes with challenges as 90% of the region’s emissions come from coal (as compared to 70% globally).
A variety of decarbonisation strategies could be utilised. First, reduce demand for and consumption of carbon-intensive products, improve energy efficiency and electrify industries. Second, new sources of energy, especially bioenergy and hydrogen, as well as investment in carbon capture, utilisation and storage should play a key role. A significant opportunity to decarbonise can also be found in transforming the agriculture and forestry industry through improving farming practices and promoting sustainable forestry. Lastly, we can electrify daily life and decarbonise transportation and buildings.
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