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New report: Millions in Asia and Pacific facing the brunt of climate change

Global warming is set to reverse decades of social and economic progress across Asia and the Pacific, home to more than four billion people or 60 percent of the world’s population, according to a new multi-agency report published today called Up in Smoke: Asia and the Pacific.

The report – the fourth in a series, compiled by more than 35 development and environmental groups including Oxfam – says there is growing consensus about the huge challenges facing Asia and the Pacific. However it notes “reason to hope” that there is now enough knowledge about the causes of climate change, how the world must tackle it and how people must continue to adapt to it. Immediate action is vital, it says.

“In two weeks leaders from 189 countries will be at the UN climate change convention in Bali. It is the 13th such meeting. This report shows that communities in our neighbourhood can’t wait for the world to get together for more discussions,” said Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand. “It is now time for real action towards a low-carbon future that is fair to developing countries,” added Coates.

As world leaders prepare for important UN talks in Bali next month to determine an international response to climate change, the report shows:

  • Science consensus that all of Asia will warm during this century with less predictable rainfall and monsoons – around which farming systems are designed – and more extreme tropical cyclones;
  • People from small island states like Vanuatu, Kiribati and Tuvalu in the Pacific have already fallen victim to sea level rises and entire nations are at risk;
  • In the Pacific, El Niño weather patterns have become more frequent since 1977, and each El Niño event has led to drought and water shortages. El Niño events also increase the risk of tropical cyclones;
  • More than half the population of Asia live near the coast and are directly vulnerable to rises in sea-level;
  • Asia is home to 87 percent of the world’s known 400 million small farms which are all especially vulnerable to climate change because the rely on regular and reliable rainfall;
  • An increase of just 1°C in night time temperatures during the growing season will reduce Asian rice yields by 10 percent, while wheat production could fall by 32 percent by 2050;
  • The sudden expansion of biofuel crops in Asia is worsening deforestation and could exacerbate global warming and threaten local people’s livelihoods;
  • In Bangladesh – where 70 percent of people rely on farming – temperature and rainfall changes have already affected crop production;
  • In India there has been recent floods affecting 28 million people and also widespread droughts in some Indian states. If no action is taken, 30 percent of India food production could be lost;
  • In northern China massive droughts have resulted in severe agricultural losses. If no action is taken, by the end of this century China could suffer 37 percent loss in its staple crops of wheat, rice and corn.

The report gives detailed analysis on the implications of climate change to poor people living in Bangladesh, central Asia, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, East Timor, the Lower Mekong and Malaysia, Nepal and Pakistan and the Pacific Islands. It also shows that positive measures are being taken by local governments and people to reduce emissions and cope with climate change now.

It looks at how climate change is affecting people’s health, access to energy, migration and urban poor, women, vulnerable crops, water and drought, seas and coasts, disasters, biodiversity and the environment.

Up in Smoke recommends that the international community commit to meaningful and mandatory emissions cuts to ensure that global temperature increases stay below 2°C. It says rich countries must honour their commitments to renewable energy and that the potential for its use across Asia is vast; India alone has the potential to provide 60 percent of its electricity with renewable sources by 2050. Rich countries must stop using restrictive intellectual property rules and allow the transfer of green technologies to developing countries.

The international community must also urgently assess the full global costs facing poor countries having to adapt to climate change and give new funds. The report notes that rich-country subsidies to their domestic fossil fuel industry stood at $73 billion per year in the late 1990s. It also says that crisis responses must be better planned, organized and funded and that vulnerable communities must be helped to cope and prepare for climate-related disasters.

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