The second phase of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report continues to build on the sombre reality painted by the first report phase (released in February), that the poor will be hardest hit and Asia will be one of the high-risk regions to global warming effects.
While the IPCC report – led by 2,500 scientists – fell under intense scrutiny by more than 100 nations in the U.N. climate panel, the final text remains the strongest U.N. assessment yet of the threat of climate change.
The report asserted that climate change is no longer a vague, distant threat, as temperature rises this century by 1.8 to 4.0 Celsius (3.2 to 7.2 F) could cause hunger for millions with a sharp fall in crop yields in Africa, and could rapidly thaw Himalayan glaciers that feed rivers from India to China and bring heat-waves for Europe and North America.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon welcomed the report findings and urged governments to act immediately to lessen the impact. He also expressed hope that the 189 countries that signed the UN Convention on Climate Change would make progress towards developing a replacement to the accord (upon expiration in 2012) when they meet in Bali, Indonesia in December.
In Asia, the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) sounded the alarm on places that ranked among the world's 10 greatest natural wonders, and on local communities and tourism. For example, the palm-fringed beaches of Goa in western India, which attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, are facing extreme vulnerability. The same can be said for beaches in Fiji, Bali, Thailand and the Philippines. The negative impact can also be felt in the Himalayan ski resorts such as Gulmarg, Auli and Narkanda, with rising temperatures triggering landslides and floods, as well as recurring water shortage for local populations in the summer months.
Two islands in the Indian Sundarbans – which form part of the world's largest remaining mangrove swamp – have vanished completely, as rising sea levels threaten livelihoods, especially on rice agriculture. According to scientific estimates, by 2020, 15 per cent of 12 islands said to be the most vulnerable in the Sundarbans would have disappeared. Anurag Danda, coordinator of WWF India's Sundarbans programme, said “the shapes of the islands have changed. I used to have GPS readings of some places but they are not on the islands any more.”
Elsewhere, the farming communities in the Upper Yangtze River region are struggling with deteriorating grassland conditions, with temperature increases over the past decade impacting permafrost and the river's volume. According to Chen Dongmei, who leads WWF China's climate change programme, “the most visible impact in this region is on the grassland. This place has many valuable species…this slow deterioration has, in turn, made livestock farming more difficult.’
WWF officers in regions mentioned above are currently working out adaptation strategies to help communities deal with the impacts of global warming, such as water management in the Himalayas to help villagers cope in times of floods or droughts. According to Dr Lara Hansen, chief scientist of the WWF's Global Climate Change Programme, “we are trying to buy people and nature time, as actions to stop the root cause of climate change are taken.”
Other strategies in the region include vulnerability studies and targeted bilateral financial aid to curb practices that induce global warming. For example, Singapore is conducting its first-ever study on the impact of climate change on the island-nation. Led by a 14-member international team, the Singapore study will target rainfall, temperature, wind, sea-level changes, and the implications of salt-water intrusion into the ground, canal systems and reservoirs.
Australia on the other hand, has announced a plan last month to provide A$200 million (S$250 million) in seed funds to Indonesia to reduce deforestation (via combating illegal logging, planting new trees and promoting sustainable use of forest resources) which will in turn reduce greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions.
While Australia’s move has been interpreted by critics as a detracting responsibility for the country’s own greenhouse-gas emissions, the plan would target a major source of emissions with the reduction of deforestation, which some estimates attribute to account for 25 to 30 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases.
Elsewhere, Hans Verolme, director of WWF's Global Climate Change Programme, responded to the release of the second phase of the IPCC report by urging newly-rich nations, such as Singapore, Qatar and South Korea to consider signing binding reduction targets, as the levels of both GDP and carbon emissions in these countries were similar to those found in first world nations.
Another less discussed problem emerging from the global warming talks is environmental refugees inducing international conflicts. According to Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, “as the impact of climate change strikes home, the numbers are likely to rise considerably, possibly as high as 50 million by 2010.” De Boer added that 'significant resources' would be required to help relocate displaced communities.
A telling development can be seen in the upcoming debate on April 17 on climate change to be held by the U.N. Security Council, a body that traditionally deals with matters of war and peace. Heavily campaigned by Britain, the latter will appoint Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett – rather than the usual procedure of appointing an ambassador – to preside over the debate.
Britain’s move builds on its leading role in action against global warming, and heightening policy concern for the global security backlash of the phenomenon, as climate change could provoke new wars, change borders, disrupt energy supplies and force mass migration. (9 April 2007).
U.N. Security Council to debate climate change (Reuters/The Straits Times, 4 April 2007)
UN Panel Issues Bleakest Warning on Climate (Reuters/The Straits Times, 6 April 2007)
Goa, Going, Gone: Asia Tourism Faces Climate Chaos (Reuters, 6 April 2007)
Wonders of nature 'destroyed by global warming' (WWF/AFP, 6 April 2007)
S'pore team to study local impact of climate change (The Straits Times, 6 April 2007)
UN chief calls governments to act on climate change (The Straits Times, 6 April 2007)
Rich nations could be more active (The Straits Times, 6 April 2007)
Global warming may turn millions of people into refugees: UN (The Straits Times, 8 April 2007)
Nice, but a small step (The Straits Times, 9 April 2007)