South Asia—with so much of its population destitute and dependent on the land for their livelihoods—stands to suffer “severe” economic and physical consequences from climate change, according to a report released today by the Asian Development Bank.
If current trends in world-wide carbon-dioxide emissions continue unabated, climate change could depress the combined annual gross domestic product of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka by 1.8% each year by 2050, economists Mahfuz Ahmed and Suphachol Suphachalasai estimate in the ADB report. After that, the yearly cost to the region is expected to increase, reaching a “prohibitively high” 8.8% of GDP by 2100.
Agriculture will be a big source of economic vulnerability. Climate change threatens to reduce crop yields and increase the likelihood of crop failures. Messrs. Ahmed and Suphachol also tabulate the costs resulting from disrupted supplies of hydroelectric and thermal power, loss of land in coastal communities—and, in Bangladesh, damage to the mangrove forests on which the country’s fishing industry depends.
The main driver of ecological change in the economists’ assessments—which are based on widely cited climate projections in a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change —is higher air temperatures. Calculations based on the IPCC projections suggest warming will continue over the next few decades, with the potential for a dramatic spike in the 2080s that could send temperatures 4-5° Celsius (7.2-9° Fahrenheit) above where they were in 2026.
That would affect the magnitude and distribution of rainfall, the report says. Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka would see more rain. India would see less, with northern and northwestern states suffering the most. Demand for water in the country is expected to fall short of supply by 300 billion cubic meters by the 2030s and 400 billion cubic meters by the 2050s.
In the Himalayas, higher air temperatures are projected to cause the total surface area of glaciers across the Tibetan Plateau to shrink by 80% between 1995 and 2030. Glacial melt has already spawned high-altitude lakes that are prone to breach without warning, causing floods downstream with growing frequency. Greater flooding and erosion would put mountainous areas of Bhutan, India and Nepal at further risk of landslides, already all-too-frequent in that part of the region.
As glaciers and ice sheets melt around the world, South Asia is also projected to experience higher sea-level rises than the global average. A one-meter increase in the sea level would devastate the low-lying river deltas of Bangladesh, temporarily inundating more than 14% of the area of the capital, Dhaka, and affecting more than 30% of the city’s population. In the Maldives, more than 80% of the archipelago’s total land area is less than one meter above sea level.
Coastal India would also be hit hard: The western state of Gujarat would suffer the largest share of its land being inundated from a one-meter rise, while West Bengal would see the largest portion of its population—more than 10%—being affected, according to Messrs. Ahmed and Suphachol’s estimates.
The economists offer suggestions for improving the region’s “adaptive capacity,” or ability to adjust economically and socially to changes in the ecosystem. Their estimated yearly price tag for diversifying agriculture, erecting flood- and erosion-resistant infrastructure, and making other climate-proofing investments: 0.86% of GDP by 2050.
The projected costs of inaction are also high. Ultimately, it isn’t geography or ecology alone that makes so many people in South Asia so vulnerable to serious climate-induced calamity. Malnourishment, low levels of education, poor infrastructure, weak local government and a lack of productive activities outside of farming make even small fluctuations in climate potentially disastrous to an area’s economy.
Hence the higher potential economic fallout for South Asia compared to Southeast Asia, where a 2009 ADB study put total climate-change-related costs at 6.7% of GDP by 2100. In East Asia, the estimate is 5.3% of GDP, according to a 2013 ADB study.
“There, the ability to adapt—and the kinds of programs they could put together—is much bigger,” said Bindu Lohani, a vice president at the ADB. “For this reason, we need more focus and, I would say, even more resources for adaptation [in South Asia].”
Source: RAYMOND ZHONG