Climate change impact on Southeast Asian region

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Climate change has become one of the most disastrous natural phenomena affecting the global population.  It has also negatively affected the Southeast Asian region, economically, culturally, and politically.  The increased global temperatures have led to numerous issues including the more obvious problems such as the melting of the polar ice caps.  Scientists have also forwarded that climate change has affected the weather systems, manifest in stronger hurricanes or typhoons, the higher likelihood for droughts and floods, colder winters, as well as hotter summers.  The areas which were usually not likely to experience snow for instance, like California were now able to experience snow.  Areas which were not often flooded, now experienced flooding and regions which did not usually experience dry spells were now experiencing droughts.  Different parts of the world are now experiencing climate change in various manifestations.  This paper will discuss climate change as experienced in the Southeast Asian region.  The impact of the region on climate change will first be discussed, followed by the impact of climate change on the region and on its future.  A discussion on the actions of the region in terms of managing climate change will also be indicated below.

Southeast Asia contribution to climate change

The Southeast Asian region is contributing significantly to climate change as one of the fastest rising areas in terms of population.  While it is also considered the least urbanized region in the world, its urban population is rising at a very fast pace, about 1.75 times than the global urban population (Yuen and Kong).  Their human settlements have increased and human activities as well as economic growth have expanded the urbanization in the region (Yuen and Kong).  In the local setting, such factors can potentially make the ecosystems as well as communities vulnerable to climate change.  Based on 2008 figures alone, about 45% of the population in the region was residing in their urban areas, and this population by the year 2030 is expected to increase to more than 50% (Yuen and Kong).  In Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, their urban population is expected to rise to more than 60% (Yuen and Kong).  Singapore is 100% urbanized and the rural areas are falling significantly behind in terms of planning and preservation (Yuen and Kong).

Rapid urbanization translates to a major strain on the urban services.  As a result, majority of the urban population may live in the slums or informal settlements (Yuen and Kong).  These informal settlements are often located in unsafe areas where there is no proper drainage system, no proper urban planning, and where vulnerabilities to air, land, and water pollution are high (Yuen and Kong).  These are also areas where sanitation is poor and risks related to flooding are significant.  A good percentage of the gross domestic product is however generated in the urban areas, mostly via industrialization and FDA (foreign direct investments) investments (Yuen and Kong).  This region has been continually and consistently expanding its economy, and many of these countries like Singapore are rising major economies in the global setting.  Countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, and Indonesia are also not far behind in terms of economic development and growth (Yuen and Kong).  The economic developments in these countries however have also translated to land use change, environmental issues, increased pollution, deforestation, the erosion of environmental sustainability, and other environmental issues (Yuen and Kong). Two cities in the region (Jakarta, Indonesia and Bangkok, Thailand) have been named by the UN Environment Program as two of the most polluted cities in the world (Yuen and Kong).

Environmental degradation in the region has been attributed to weak governance in some of the countries in the region (Yuen and Kong).  Economic development and new lifestyles for the citizens have also translated to more citizens owning private cars and using more energy.  With improved economies and earnings for the people, the use of technology has increased in the region (Yuen and Kong).  This has however translated to a larger contribution to the environment in terms of more fossil fuel used and more greenhouse gases emitted.  This implies more wastes generated which is in turn causing a greater strain on their environment.

Climate change impact on the Southeast Asian region

Climate change is affecting the region economically in terms of the losses in agriculture, fishery, and other natural income sources.  Climate change is causing the Southeast Asian region to experience stronger typhoons (Kumaresan, 2011). This is associated with warmer sea waters which are said to lead to stronger typhoons or hurricanes.  In November of 2013, the strongest typhoon ever recorded, struck the Philippines, killing thousands and causing billions of damage in infrastructure, farm lands, and fishing areas.  Typhoon Haiyan devastated primarily the Visayas region in the Philippines, wiping out homes and livelihoods, and flooding areas for many days after the typhoon.  The storm surge from the typhoon reached up to the height of second story homes.  The worst hit city was that of Tacloban in the province of Leyte where many workers and students converged for their work and education.  Typhoons in the Pacific region are more or less expected occurrences, especially as about an average of 15-20 of these typhoons pass through the region every year.  Some countries like the Philippines are often more likely to experience more typhoons in a year.  Ironically, countries like the Philippines have a highly urbanized population.  As a result, each typhoon passing through these countries often lead to major damage and losses.

Climate change affects not just the urban areas but also the rural areas, mostly in terms of the crops lost and fishing boats destroyed by the typhoons (Kumaresan, Narain and Sathiakumar, 200-208).  Agricultural areas are also the most affected by droughts and floods.  Each typhoon passing through the region can both be beneficial and devastating to agriculture (Kumaresan, Narain and Sathiakumar, 200-208).  During dry spells, typhoons of moderate strength can potentially bring the much needed rains to the crops.  However, the stronger ones can totally wipe out and destroy crops.  This means loss of income and sources of food for farmers who are already experiencing major economic difficulties (Kumaresan, Narain and Sathiakumar, 200-208).  With these losses, some farmers, or at least their children often end up leaving their farms and their rural residences for the cities where they can be wage earners and the risk of losing crops to typhoons is eliminated (Kumaresan, Narain and Sathiakumar, 200-208).

Climate change can also translate to longer dry spells which means dry crop fields.  Once again, this means economic losses from agriculture (Kumaresan, Narain and Sathiakumar, 200-208).  Droughts are also known to cause the desertification of lands.  Through the increased deforestation in the Southeast Asian region, the exposure of the lands to the hot sun means the eventual desertification of these lands.  This also means lesser water sources for crops and for human consumption (UN Convention to Combat Desertification, 1-3).

Climate change has also a significant negative impact on fishing activities.  Typhoons and related weather disturbances often damage fish ponds and fishing boats (UN Convention to Combat Desertification, 1-3). Numerous fishermen in the Philippines, Vietnam, and other coastal countries in the region attest to this problem whenever their country is hit by typhoons and storms (UN Convention to Combat Desertification, 1-3).  This means lesser fish harvests and lesser income from fishing.  In some areas, the phenomenon known as red tide which is associated with hot summers and pollution have been known to affect many mussels and fishes, often poisoning them or causing these sea foods to be unhealthy for human consumption (UN Convention to Combat Desertification, 1-3).

In terms of culture, the cultures related to domestic activities for the people have been affected.  This mostly relates to their culture in terms of agriculture and fishing as well as their ethnic activities (Braun, 49).  Harvests for instance are no longer the community affairs they have been in the past as fewer members of the community, especially those in the younger demographic are participating in these activities (Braun, 49).  They have now become more urbanized.  Fishing has become an activity for the older generations and these activities do not anymore have the festive qualities they used to have when people in the village helped to bring in big fishing loads (Braun, 49).

In terms of politics, climate changed has affected the region in terms of pressuring politicians and leaders to develop policies related to the management of climate change (Shine, 326). This has also translated to regional cooperation agreements within the ASEAN and the APEC context.  So far these policies however have not produced any improvements in terms of the better management or response to the impact of climate change in the region.

Climate change future impact

Where climate change goes unchecked, climate change would have a major negative impact on the region.  Economically, the region shall suffer even more economic losses from its agricultural and fishing activities (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). This means a decline in the food sources in the region.  Eventually, in the long term, this would mean that the region would have to import food just to meet its people’s food needs (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).  In other words, the region would lose its food sufficiency.  With agricultural and fishing losses, more people would also head to the urban areas in search of work and sources of income (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).  This would mean an increase in the urban population, as well as an increase in the informal settlers.  During typhoons, more people are likely to be killed due to floods, storm surges; and more homes and properties are likely to be damaged during typhoons as well (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).  As urban needs far exceed urban services available, mortality and morbidity rates from diseases would also increase.

More agricultural lands would also be lost as urban areas would gradually expand to meet the land needs of the people (McCaffrey).  Urban areas are often made of concrete and are therefore more likely to bounce back the heat into the atmosphere instead of absorbing it.  This would mean that the temperatures are likely to increase even further, contributing more to climate change (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).  In the cultural context, climate change also has a negative impact as more of the younger population is raised in the cities and urban areas.  This means they are more likely to be exposed to urban issues including drugs, criminality, gangs, prostitution, alcoholism, and smoking addiction (Lovejoy and Hannah).  The very culture of families and communities are lost in the age of climate change.  Physically, there would be less open range areas, fewer parks, more parking lots, and less vegetation in the region where climate change goes unchecked (DiMento and Doughman).

Combatting climate change

In the recently concluded ASEAN Conference in the Philippines, the countries and their joint heads reiterated their commitment to secure, implement, and adopt policies which would address climate change (ASEAN 50).  During the conference, the countries called for their members to provide the tools for implementation to ensure sustainable management and conservation of their biodiversity and ecosystems (ASEAN 50).  They have also committed towards strengthening their rapid response capacity towards climate change adaptation as well as disaster risk reduction (ASEAN 50).  The ASEAN Conference has also called on all the members to honor and meet their current mitigation commitments which translate to a financial support of USD100 billion yearly (ASEAN 50). They have also committed themselves to establish a Green Climate Fund which would help manage and allow for direct access to such fund by the ASEAN. The ASEAN Conference also called on the developed countries to ensure support for the region’s efforts towards ensuring low carbon emission for the region (ASEAN 50).

In particular, the Philippines has developed its climate change mitigation response in its use of renewable energy.  The Philippines passed its Climate Change Act which was meant to reduce its carbon and GHG emissions and to promote better resilience for the country in terms of meeting the challenges of climate change (Lagua).  They have developed measures towards disaster risk reduction which however has yet to find full support and implementation by the government (Lagua).  As it stands, the country still lacks the necessary land use applications to reduce the impact of climate change on its islands.  In general however, it has taken the necessary steps in relation to policy making to promote climate change responsiveness.  The country has also established numerous wind mills, mostly in its northern region (Philstar).  At present, it is the largest wind energy producer in the Southeast Asian region (Philstar).  The country has also adopted the use of solar energy as some of its business establishments now run on solar energy.

In general, the Southeast Asian region is largely contributory to climate change, and as a result, it is also largely affected by climate change.  Its location is vulnerable to typhoons and other weather disturbances which have had severe effects on the region’s economy, culture, and politics.  In order to address the climate change issue, more concrete action from the leaders in the region is expected.

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  1. ASEAN 50, “ASEAN joint statement on Climate Change,” 2017, https://www.asean2017.ph/asean-joint-statement-on-climate-change-for-the-23rd-session-of-the-conference-of-parties-to-the-united-nations-framework-convention-on-climate-change/ Accessed 12 December 2017
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  7. Lovejoy, Thomas E., and Lee Jay Hannah. 2005. Climate change and biodiversity. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press.
  8. McCaffrey, Paul. 2006. Global climate change. Bronx, NY: H.W. Wilson Company.
  9. Philstar, “Philippines is top wind energy producer in Asean,” 2013, http://www.sunstar.com.ph/davao/business/2016/01/24/philippines-top-wind-energy-producer-asean-453487 Accessed 12 December 2017.
  10. Shine, Keith P. “Climate change.” (2014): 326-339.
  11. UN Convention to Combat Climate Change, “Climate Change Impacts – South East Asia,” https://www.ifad.org/documents/10180/41587621-d96e-4aed-8b22-e714bcecd58e Accessed 12 December 2017.
  12. Yuen, Belinda, and Leon Kong. “Climate change and urban planning in Southeast Asia.” SAPIS. Surveys and Perspectives Integrating Environment and Society2.3 (2009).
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