04.05.2014 Author: Natalia Rogozhina

The Development of Asian Countries in Changing Climate Conditions

98The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, during his visit to the countries of Asia in February of 2014, urged them to do their utmost to combat climate change, which, in his opinion, represents “the most fearsome weapon of mass destruction in the world.” He compared global temperature increases to other threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Prospects for the development of Asian countries are dependent on how well they will be able to manage the latest changes in climate and adapt to them; the alternative is unavoidable and devastating upheaval. Due to the increasing demand for energy in the region, greenhouse gas emissions will increase by 213% between 2002 and 2030, the highest rate in the world. At the same time, the countries of Asia are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters – floods, droughts, and storms – which will become appreciably more frequent in the event of an increased global temperature and which will inflict significant losses to the economies and lower the populations’ standards of living. In the period between 1999 and 2008, 42% of the world’s natural disasters occurred in the Asia-Pacific region. Every resident of the region is four times more likely to be a victim of natural disasters than a resident of Africa and 25 times more likely than someone living in Europe or North America.

The rise in the number of natural disasters may provoke mass protests and destabilize several regions in Asia. For example, in China, where social unrest is on the rise, one cannot rule out the possibility that future natural calamities may bring about political destabilization as a result of intensified competition for access to dwindling natural resources.

Global warming will cause the Himalayan glaciers to melt, subjecting the people of Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Northern India to flooding and soil erosion. And for the 1 billion people living in the flood basins of the seven rivers whose sources begin in the mountains, supplying water will become problematic by 2050. Among the countries most affected by changes in river flow are those which depend on the resources of the Tibetan Plateau for their water supply.

These same increases in atmospheric temperature and such natural disasters as flooding and drought will lead to a decrease in water quality. The population’s access to pure water sources will noticeably decrease by 2050 in Southern- and Southeast Asia, where the number of poor rural residents living in river basins of great rivers is expected to increase in absolute terms.

As a result of aggravated water problems there is a calculated probability of the beginnings of sharpened international disputes as to the distribution of water resources, which (and this is not outside the realm of possibility) may develop into open conflicts, for example, between India and Pakistan or China and India.

As a result of rising atmospheric temperatures and diminishing rainfalls on the whole of the territories of Asia, the productivity of forests and fields will decrease by 40-90%, appreciably worsening the food situation. In Central and Southern Asia, it is predicted that crop yields will fall by 30%, threatening an increase in the number of starving residents to 49 million individuals by 2020.

Rising sea levels will bring flooding to a number of cities located not only in river basins but also on the coasts. This includes Shanghai, Karachi, Manila, Jakarta, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh. Considering that 18.8-, 18-, 11.5-, 10-, 8-, and 7.1 million people, respectively, live in these cities and that they are powerful commercial, industrial and financial centres, it’s not only the local residents, forced to migrate elsewhere, that will suffer, but also the most modern industrial and transportation infrastructures. 

Connected to climate change is an increase in mass migrations of populations that will occur both within and without national boundaries and that will be fraught with complications in relations between different groups, especially between those which already have intergovernmental disagreements, such as China, India and Pakistan.

Climate change will have a negative influence on the prospects of the stable development of the nations of the Asia-Pacific region. Whether or not they will be able to safeguard the dynamics of their development in the future depends on their ability to adjust their politics, taking into consideration the threats looming before them.

Natalia Rogozhina, Doctor of Political Science, Leading Researcher at IMEMO RAN, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.