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Friday, April 18, 2014
Time for change
Responses to global warming will shape Asia's future: experts

Challenges such as extreme weather, rising seas and worsening scarcity of drinking water are forcing many Asian governments to confront the changes being brought about by a warming planet. Millions of people in the region have already been displaced by floods and droughts thought related to global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its latest report.

Experts say Asia and the South Pacific, home to 60 percent of all humankind, face rising risks from climate change that threaten food security, public health and social order. And failed global efforts to significantly reduce emissions mean that nations are now focusing efforts on adapting to a hotter Earth.

Asia's growing economic importance and rapidly urbanizing populations will give it a pivotal role in humanity's handling of climate change, said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University in Bangladesh. "It's where the young population is; it's where the growth dynamism will occur in the next few decades," Huq said.

The climate report outlines in unprecedented detail the regional-level threats of conflicts, food shortages and rising deaths from diseases spread through contaminated water and mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue and malaria. Floods and droughts will likely worsen poverty while pushing food prices higher, the report said.

In Myanmar and Bangladesh, coastal farmlands are tainted by seawater from storm surges and rising sea levels. In their seas, warming temperatures and rising acidity are killing off tropical coral reefs. In Nepal, which accounts for just 0.02 percent of global emissions of greenhouse gases, fast melting Himalayan glaciers are triggering floods as overburdened dams collapse.

Asia has not made as much progress as Europe and the U.S. in assessing risks, yet Asia is not lagging in adapting to the changes already underway, said Huq. Use of renewable energy is already expanding rapidly. Progress is mixed, and it does not always depend on the wealth of the societies involved.

Experts have praised Bangladesh, one of Asia's poorest nations, for its efforts to reduce flooding risks by capturing silt to raise ground levels in its low-lying coastal areas. Meanwhile, China has swiftly increased its wind and solar power generation and expanded its use of nuclear power. Regardless of who is to blame for the legacy of carbon emissions in the industrial world, in Asia policymakers understand that carrying on with business as usual is just too risky. "I think they're on the verge of realizing that's not in their best interest," said Huq.

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