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Climate Change – Impact on Asia

Updated On: Feb 23, 2007

Following the 2007 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report, released earlier this month, that highlighted the cause and consequences of climate change, there has been increasing calls for immediate action and concerted efforts at all levels to mitigate the apocalyptic effects.  Asia is also waking up to the fact of the potential impact of climate change.

A state media reported Shanghai, Guangzhou and other large coastal cities in China could face unimaginable challenges if the sea levels keep rising as an impact of global warming. The sea level had risen by an average of 2.5 mm annually and was predicted to rise by up to 31 mm over the next decade. Indonesia is by no means less vulnerable to this impact. It is an archipelagic country with over thirteen thousands of islands and islets. If the trend of rising sea level continues, Indonesia will lose some of its islands and thus threatens their inhabitants.

In another report, Sir Nicolas Stern, UK Economist Chief predicted that India's monsoon, the South Asian nation's biggest source of water for irrigation, may be disrupted by the melting of glaciers and snow on the Himalayas, the world's highest mountain range, because of global warming. Low-lying countries such as Bangladesh are particularly vulnerable to climate change. In addition, millions more South Asians will suffer from disease such as malaria and cholera, or go hungry due to global warming, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. 'Diseases like malaria, Japanese encephalitis, tick-borne diseases and dengue fever will definitely thrive in warmer climates,' the WHO's environmental health adviser for South Asia, Mr Alex Hildebrand said. South Asia gets around 20 million cases of malaria every year.

Perhaps as a forewarning of what is to come, the rise in the number of dengue fever cases during rainy season in Indonesia, particularly in Java could have been partially caused by the warmer climates. Previous research confirmed that warmer temperature has led to mutation of the dengue virus, making cases more difficult to handle, thus leading to an increase in fatalities.  As of mid January 2007, there were 1,889 dengue fever patients and 42 people have died in 13 of the 26 regencies or cities in West Java Province only. Meanwhile Central Java has 2,767 dengue fever patients and 73 fatal casualties per 16 February 2007. In Jakarta, as of February 16, the Jakarta health agency reported 498 people were being treated at city hospitals for dengue. Fourteen people have died of the disease in this current outbreak. This has also been worsened by the flooding in the recent past.

"Climate change clearly poses a major threat to the livelihoods and environments of the ASEAN region," Hans Verolme, director of the World Wild Fund for Nature's Global Climate Change Program. The surging price of crude oil that was in a level of US$70 a barrel in mid 2006 has forced the Southeast Asian governments to seek for alternatives to oil. Beyond that figure, income levels could not be sustained unless new energy sources were found.

Of the 10 emerging and developing countries within the ASEAN bloc, only Indonesia and Malaysia are relatively self-sufficient in crude oil - and that comfort zone will evaporate within two decades, along with most natural-gas supplies.

From the global perspective, the US Department of Energy has calculated that oil demand will grow by 35% between 2004 and 2025 - from 82 million barrels per day to 111 million - largely because of the voracious appetite of newly industrializing countries such as China and India. A greater likelihood is that crude-oil supplies to Asia will begin to dry up within two decades.

The alternatives are also not obvious, even when coupled with efficiency drives. Coal is perceived as being too dirty, large hydro is opposed by environmentalists and solar generation is still too expensive. Other renewable sources such as wave and wind generation and biofuel are promising but still needs to be developed further.

There is no single energy technology can replace fossil fuels, but the right combination of several technologies is so far not known.

The search for more visible solutions has taken governments on two very different paths: nuclear reactors and biofuels. Realistically, only the latter is likely to be a part of immediate post-oil energy planning. Many will favor biofuels, believed to be more ‘environmentally friendly’.  Yet biofuels also have their skeptics, not least within the environmental and scientific communities. Still to be verified is whether the industry is as eco-friendly as claimed and offers a viable economic alternative to fossil fuels. At least four countries in ASEAN have undertaken preliminary studies for nuclear plants. Indonesia will pursue its plans to develop nuclear power as part of efforts to find alternative energy sources to address its growing needs. It will press ahead to build nuclear plants, even though no decisions have thus far been made on many important aspects, including technological specifications and safety standards. The government was determined to stick to its original schedule to put its first nuclear power plant to tender in 2008. Construction would start in 2010 and electricity production would follow in 2017.  The International Atomic Energy Agency has backed Indonesia's plans to build nuclear plants despite opposition from environmentalists (22 February 2007).

Sources:

Climate change 'will be more severe in China' (AFP/ST, Feb 19)

Global warming will bring more diseases to S. Asia  (AFP/ST, Feb 17)

Rising sea levels endanger China's coastal cities (AFP/ST, Feb 17)

W. Java struggles with dengue fever (JP, Jan 30, 2007)

Central Java has 2,767 dengue fever patients, 73 die (Antara, Feb 16)

Dengue fever continues spread across Jakarta (JP, Feb 17)

Global Warming Action Comes Too Late to Help Pacific (Bloomberg, Feb 15)

Poor Countries Hurt by Climate Change, Wolfowitz Says (Bloomberg, Feb 15)

Indian Monsoon May Be Disrupted by Melting Glaciers, Warming (Bloomberg, Feb 15)

Future shock: Asia is running out of gas (Asia Times, Feb 17)

Nuclear plan moves ahead despite lack of specifics (JP, Feb 21)

Indonesia to push ahead with nuclear plans, Antara, February 21, 2007