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Asia-Pacific 'faces the highest risk' of climate change disaster

MANILA —- Unabated climate change would reverse development gains and severely affect future growth in Asia and the Pacific region, home to two-thirds of the world's poor, a report from the Asian Development Bank said Friday.

"The global climate crisis is arguably the biggest challenge human civilization faces in the 21st century, with the Asia and Pacific region at the heart of it all," said Bambang Susantono, a vice president at the Manila-based bank.

"Countries in Asia and the Pacific are at the highest risk of plummeting into deeper poverty — and disaster — if mitigation and adaptation efforts are not quickly and strongly implemented," he added.

Temperatures over the Asia-Pacific landmass are projected to increase by at least 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century under a business-as-usual scenario, according to the report, "A Region at Risk: The Human Dimensions of Climate Change in Asia and the Pacific."

In some countries such as Pakistan and the north-western part of China, the temperature increase could reach 8 degrees Celsius, added the report that was co-authored by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

The increases would drastically change the region's weather system, agriculture and fisheries sectors, land and marine biodiversity, domestic and regional security, trade, urban development, migration and health, the report said.

"Such a scenario may even pose an existential threat to some countries in the region and crush any hope of achieving sustainable and inclusive development," the bank said.

The report warned of 50 percent more intense typhoons and tropical cyclones in the region as well as severe drought in some areas. There will also be increased risk of flooding as sea level rises, it said.

"Global flood losses are expected to increase to US$52 billion per year by 2050 from US$6 billion in 2005," the report said.

Food production costs would be higher as yields decline by up to 50 percent for rice, the basic staple in the region, by 2100. Due to food shortages, the number of malnourished children in South Asia would go up by 7 million.

Marine ecosystems will be in serious danger by 2100, especially in the Western Pacific region, the report said.

"All coral reef systems in the subregion will collapse due to mass coral bleaching if global warming increases by 4-degree Celsius," the report noted.

"Even with a 1.5-degree Celsius temperature increase, 89 percent of coral reefs are expected to suffer from serious bleaching, severely affecting reef-related fisheries and tourism in Southeast Asia," it added.

Heat-related deaths in the region among the elderly are expected to increase by about 52,000 cases by 2050 due to climate change, which could also raise the number of deaths due to such diseases as malaria and dengue, the report said.

The report urged Asia-Pacific countries to step up efforts to speed up decarbonization of their economies as well as implement measures to protect the region's most vulnerable populations.

"The Asian countries hold Earth's future in their hands," said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute. "If they choose to protect themselves against dangerous climate change, they will help save the entire planet."

"Leading the clean industrial revolution will provide Asia with unprecedented economic opportunities," he added.

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