Climate Change-Linked Flooding in So Asia: 1300 Dead, 41 Million Impacted

Floods May Cost South Asia $215 Billion a Year by 2030; Up To 65 Percent Of Asia’s Glaciers Could Be Lost By 2100 Thanks To Climate Change

BE2C2 Report — Devastating floods in South Asia have made more than 41 million people battling floods and displacement. The region has about 40 percent of the world’s poorest people. And actually, most of those poor people live in these flood-affected areas. And most of them are dependent on agriculture and the environment for their livelihoods.

According to several reports, more than 1,300 people have died in Bangladesh, India and Nepal in recent months, after the region was hit by the worst flooding in at least 40 years.

Some 40 million more people have seen their homes, businesses or crops destroyed— one-and-a-half million homes destroyed. Thirty to 40 percent of those killed were children. Vast swaths of farmland have been destroyed. In Bangladesh, a third of the country is underwater. In Nepal, local residents said entire villages have been destroyed.

In the coming decade, devastating floods are expected to increase as changing weather patterns worsen risks in the region, climate researchers say.

Flooding accounted for 47 percent of all weather-related global disasters between 1995 and 2015, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction says in a report.

Of the 2.3 billion people affected, 95 percent were in Asia. From Afghanistan in the west to Bangladesh in the east, floods could cost South Asia — home to a fourth of the world’s people — as much as $215 billion each year by 2030, according to the World Resources Institute’s global flood analyzer launched in 2015.

David Molden, the director general of the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development in Kathmandu, Nepal spoke recently to Democracy Now on the floods in South Asia. The group works in eight countries across South Asia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan.

Discussing about the connection between these floods and climate change, Molden saidthe Himalayas is really a hot spot for climate change. “So temperatures rise faster at higher elevations. So if we’re seeing a 2-degree world in the future, as we hope for, it might be 3 or 4 degrees up high on the mountains. So we see glaciers melting already due to climate change.”

“But what I really worry about is the effects on the monsoon patterns—right which are hugely important for the region, he added.

Regardless of whether you believe in climate change or are a climate-sceptic, there is no denying some facts. For instance, the atmosphere today is recorded as holding 4 per cent more water vapor than it did 40 years ago, because of rising temperatures. This has unquestionably raised the risk of extreme rainfall.

Asia is particularly vulnerable because developing countries account for 99 per cent of the deaths and 90 per cent of the economic losses, according to estimates by the World Economic Forum in Geneva. In parts of the continent, it is not uncommon to have droughts and floods simultaneously.

“What the climate science tells us is that we’re likely to see more extreme events, more floods and droughts in the future. So this event was caused by rainfall, for sure. It’s always hard to pin that event with climate change, but, for sure, in the future, we’re bound to see more events like this, and even worse, due to climate change. So there’s a direct link.

More people live inside this circle than outside it

As highlighted by a new letter to Nature from Trent University, thanks to climate change, Asia’s glaciers are shrinking. One-third of them will be lost by 2100 even if the Paris agreement is strictly adhered to and global temperature rises are kept below 1.5°C (2.7°F).

The letter explains that there will be far less of the continent’s mountainous glaciers left if there is 3.5°C/6.3°F of warming (49 percent loss), 4°C/7.2°F of warming (51 percent loss), or 6°C/10.8°F of warming (65 percent loss) by the end of the century.

As pointed out by the Guardian, plenty of locations in South Asia and China rely on these rivers for agriculture, fishing, hydropower, and irrigation. This rapid melting will not only cause sudden and potentially catastrophic floods in the summer months, but it will also ultimately lead to water shortages further down the line.

The Ganges and the Indus river (in South Asia) are lifelines for more than 1.3 billion people, who are now in direct jeopardy thanks to climate change.

And who bears the brunt of that climate change affect?. Molden says, “It is the poor people, as we saw in the most recent floods. Those poor people are the ones who are really not the ones who are emitting greenhouse gases into the world, but they are the ones that have to bear the burden. Finally, you know, it’s a driver of human mobility, of people movement, of migration from the region. So we’ll see all kinds of knock-on effects from this kind of flood event.”

Molden says the U.S., being historically the greatest greenhouse gas emitter has a responsibility, and it should get back into the Paris climate accord– President Trump has announced pulling out of the Paris climate accord. “It is certainly bad news for our region. Like I said, it’s already impacted by climate change.”

“The people who are emitting greenhouse gases are indeed impacting glaciers, impacting the weather system in Nepal. So there is a shared responsibility to do something about that, as well,” he added.

Dr Helena Wright, senior policy adviser at the global climate change think tank E3G says:

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has just finalized an ambitious new green framework, setting out how it will face the challenge of climate change up to 2030– Asia and the Pacific are facing a huge threat from the costs of global warming.

Most of Asia’s economic centers are located on coastlines, and South Asia and the Asia-Pacific have the largest number of climate-vulnerable people worldwide. By 2050, more than 1.6 billion people in the region are expected to be at risk of cyclones, which are set to become more intense.

Other climate impacts include heat waves, rising sea levels and changes to rainfall patterns, with effects on health, agriculture and migration. At just 2 degrees of warming, the world’s coral reefs would be wiped out, with disastrous impacts for the world’s fish stocks.

ADB says it is now going to support member countries in implementing their pledges under the Paris climate accord. This will mean the bank is better positioned to provide expert advice to countries, and might also mean that staff at the ADB will require further training. By contrast, the World Bank – often a competitor to the ADB – has yet to set out how it will do this, although it has committed to do so.

Decisions made in Asia today are critical to maintaining a safe global climate. Phasing out coal is essential to achieving climate goals, yet our analysis shows that Asia has more coal-fired power plants under construction and development than any other region.

Shifting from a high-carbon to clean-energy future will be critical to achieving the goal of the Paris agreement. Investment decisions must factor in the true economic costs of coal plants – both in terms of toxic air pollution and the rising costs of disasters.

A major issue for the region is that coal-fired plants are being supported by public funding from several Chinese banks, such as China Development Bank, found to be the biggest development bank lending to coal projects.

The biggest financiers of coal projects last year were all institutions from China, Japan and Korea. This is not in line with a pathway towards a safe climate.

Critically, China’s leadership must stop supporting public subsidies that are going to fossil fuels abroad, otherwise the country will be complicit in funding a global pathway towards devastating climate impacts.

China is already working to reduce coal emissions domestically, and needs to ensure that it does not contradict that effort by exporting the coal problem to emerging economies. The reforms in international financial institutions such as the ADB and IDB could be helpful in marking a better way forward for China’s banks.

A new regional financial institution, the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), earlier this year approved a new energy policy and its leadership has pledged it will be a “lean, green and clean” investor. Can the AIIB also take lessons from the changes at the ADB?

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