Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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11.1. The Asian Region 11.1.1. Background

Following publication of its Second Assessment Report (SAR) and on recommendation of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice of the Conference of the Parties, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Special Report on the Regional Impacts of Climate Change in early 1998, providing assessments of the vulnerability of natural ecosystems, socioeconomic sectors, and human health to climate change for 10 regions of the globe (IPCC, 1998). That Special Report served as guidance material, illustrating for the first time the potential character and magnitude of region-specific impacts—though often in qualitative sense only, based on a diverse range of methods and tools.

A key message of the regional assessments in that report was that "many systems and policies are not well adjusted even to today's climate and climate variability." Several examples cited, based on information gathered during country study and other projects, demonstrate current vulnerability in the Asian region as a result of increasing risks to human life and property from floods, storms, and droughts in recent decades. The report suggests that, as a consequence of climate change, there could be a large reduction in the area and productivity of forests in boreal Asia. In arid and semi-arid regions of Asia, water shortage—already a limiting factor for ecosystems, food and fiber production, human settlements, and human health—may be exacerbated by climate change. Limited water supplies and land degradation problems are likely to threaten the food security of some countries in this region. Major changes in the composition and distribution of vegetation types of semi-arid areas—for example, grasslands, rangelands, and woodlands—are anticipated. In temperate Asia, changes in temperature and precipitation may result in altered growing seasons and boundary shifts between grasslands, forests, and shrublands. An increase in temperature could lead to oxygen depletion in aquatic ecosystems, fish diseases, and introduction of unwanted species, as well as potential negative factors such as changes in established reproductive patterns, migration routes, and ecosystem relationships in temperate Asia. A rise in sea level will endanger sandy beaches in the coastal zones and add further to the problems of tectonically and anthropogenically induced land subsidence in deltaic regions of temperate Asia. Substantial elevational shifts of ecosystems in the mountains and uplands of tropical Asia are projected. Increases in temperature and seasonal variability in precipitation are expected to result in more rapid recession of Himalayan glaciers. Climate change impacts could result in significant changes in crop yields, production, storage, and distribution in this region. Densely settled and intensively used low-lying coastal plains, islands, and deltas in Asia are extremely vulnerable to coastal erosion and land loss, inundation and sea flooding, and upstream movement of saline water fronts as a result of sea-level rise. The incidence and extent of vector-borne diseases, which are significant causes of mortality and morbidity in tropical Asia, are likely to spread into new regions on the margins of present endemic areas as a result of climate change.

The 1998 Special Report underscores that, in many countries of Asia, economic policies and conditions (e.g., taxes, subsidies, and regulations) that shape decisionmaking, development strategies, and resource-use patterns (hence environmental conditions) hinder implementation of adaptation measures. For example, water is subsidized in most developing countries of Asia, encouraging overuse (which draws down existing sources) and discouraging conservation measures that may be elements of future adaptation strategies. Other examples are inappropriate land-use zoning and subsidized disaster insurance, which encourage infrastructure development in areas that are prone to flooding or other natural disasters—areas that could become even more vulnerable as a result of climate change. Adaptation and better incorporation of the long-term environmental consequences of resource use can be brought about through a range of approaches, including strengthening legal and institutional frameworks, removing pre-existing market distortions (e.g., subsidies), correcting market failures (e.g., failure to reflect environmental damage or resource depletion in prices or inadequate economic valuation of biodiversity), and promoting public participation and education. These types of actions would adjust resource-use patterns to current environmental conditions and better prepare systems for potential future changes.

The 1998 Special Report emphasizes that the challenge lies in identifying opportunities that would facilitate sustainable development by making use of existing technologies and developing policies that make climate-sensitive sectors resilient to today's climate variability. This strategy will require developing countries of Asia to have access to appropriate technologies, information, and adequate financing. In addition, adaptation will require anticipation and planning; failure to prepare systems for projected change in climate means, variability, and extremes could lead to capital-intensive development of infrastructure or technologies that are ill-suited to future conditions, as well as missed opportunities to lower the costs of adaptation.

Subsequent to publication of the 1998 Special Report, some advances in our ability to better understand the likely future state of social, economic, and environmental factors controlling the emission and concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and aerosols that alter the radiative forcings of climate have been made. Details on future projections of climatic and environmental changes on finer scales also are now better understood. This chapter presents an update on the climate change projections for Asia and examines how projected changes in climate could affect social, environmental, and economic sectors in the region.

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