Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Economies

Adaptation to Climate Change: Needs and Opportunities in Southeast Asia

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Economies

Adaptation to Climate Change: Needs and Opportunities in Southeast Asia

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

The impacts of climate change, which include the increasing frequency and intensity of droughts and storms, and rising sea level, are already being felt in Asia and the rest of the world. Whether induced by climate change or other factors, hydrometeorological hazards cause tremendous destruction. They account for 85 per cent of all natural disasters and caused 75 per cent of the economic losses from natural causes from 1980 to 2005 (Golnaraghi, 2006). The Natural Disasters Data Book (2006) indicated that a thirty-year analysis of statistics on natural disasters in the world had Asia accounting for "about 90 per cent of all those affected by disasters and more than 50 per cent of the total fatalities and economic losses". Projected future impacts of climate change in the region are staggering. A 40-cm sea level rise by 2080 could displace as many as 55 million people in South Asia, and 21 million people in Southeast Asia (IPCC 2001). A World Bank study (Dasgupta et al. 2007) on the impacts of sea level rise shows that a 1 metre sea level rise could displace 60 million people in many of the 84 coastal developing countries; in Vietnam alone, 11 per cent of the population will be affected. The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) report projected an 18-58 cm sea level rise by the end of the century. But these are conservative estimates and do not take into account the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, which could easily raise the sea level much higher.

Clearly, efforts to reduce the accumulation of greenhouse gases, the leading cause of climate change, need to be strengthened to curtail the process. But the grim fact remains that the impacts of past and current emissions of greenhouse gases are unavoidable; we need to cope with them through appropriate adaptation measures while mitigation efforts continue. The focus of this paper is adaptation in developing countries, where the impacts of climate change are expected to be the greatest but where adaptive capacity is the lowest. The paper explores the opportunities for adaptation that countries in Southeast Asia can and should take advantage of.

Adaptation refers to actions that people take in response to or in anticipation of projected or actual changes in climate, either to reduce the adverse impacts or to take advantage of opportunities offered by such changes (IPCC 2001). Adaptation measures could be simple ones like shifting planting calendars or changing crops, or more costly ones like investing in protective infrastructures such as river or sea dykes for flood control. In extreme cases, retreat may be the best strategy.

The adaptive capacities of countries differ, but largely depend on their economic status. Generally, developed countries have higher adaptive capacities while developing and least developed countries, which are most vulnerable to climate change, need external support to build theirs.

Despite pronouncements that developing countries must be assisted to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change, there is still a very limited flow of resources to these countries for adaptation. One reason could be the difficult application requirements imposed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), (1) one of the main channels for such funds. It may also be due to the lack of knowledge of developing countries about how to access these funds.

Even if the requirements were relaxed and the knowledge improved through training, the funds available are still limited relative to need. Countries have to compete for the funds and then ensure that whatever limited resources they acquire are put to their best use. Towards this end, both economics and institutions could play important roles.

Economics offers useful tools to aid decision-making by providing information on the costs and benefits of alternative adaptation options. The most useful of these tools are cost-benefit analysis and cost-effectiveness analysis. …

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