Millions of vulnerable people in Asia bearing the brunt of climate crisis, says new report

“There is growing consensus about the huge challenges facing Asia. Immediate action is vital.”
Published: 19 November 2007

Global warming is set to reverse decades of social and economic progress across Asia, home to more than four billion people or 60 per cent 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 and Greenpeace – says there is growing consensus about the huge challenges facing Asia. 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 in Asia must continue to adapt to it. Immediate action is vital, it says.

Just days before the Asia "Up in Smoke" report were released, one of the most vulnerable countries in the region was hit by a severe cyclone.

“Bangladesh features prominently in the report as a country where millions of poor people, etching out a living on farmlands and coastal areas, are already bearing the brunt of man-made climate change. While cyclones of this magnitude reveal the extreme vulnerability of poor communities, the ongoing erratic weather conditions experienced the world over mean a daily struggle for the millions of poor people who rely on the land and sea for their survival. Oxfam wants to see governments taking both mitigation and adaptation efforts seriously now and in the future,” says Oxfam International’s Bert Maerten.

The Asia "Up in Smoke" report is being released as the IPCC (Intergovernmental report on Climate Change) concluded its Fourth Assessment Synthesis report in Valencia, Spain. The IPCC highlighted “unequivocal” climate change already occurring and warned that man-made global warming could lead to abrupt or irreversible impacts.

“We must not gamble with the future of the planet. The stakes are too high and levelled particularly against the interests of the poor and the vulnerable,” said Athena Ballesteros of Greenpeace International. “We know more than enough to act. Decisions  taken in Bali must match the scale of ambition required by the IPCC’s findings.“

As world leaders prepare for important UN talks in Bali next month to determine an international response to climate change, the Asia Up in Smoke 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;
  • 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 per cent 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 per cent, while wheat production could fall by 32 per cent by 2050;
  • The sudden expansion of biofuel crops in Asia is worsening deforestation and could exacerbate global warming and threaten local people’s livelihoods;
  • 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 Bangladesh – where 70 per cent of people rely on farming – temperature and rainfall changes have already affected crop production;
  • In India there has been recent floods affecting 28m people and also widespread droughts in some Indian states. If no action is taken, 30 per cent 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 per cent loss in its staple crops of wheat, rice and corn.

The report gives detailed analysis on the implications of climate change in 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 per cent 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.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) heads of state, with the participation of other Asian countries such as China and South Korea, will be convening in Singapore from November 19 to 21. Climate change and energy security occupy the regional group’s agenda. "The very meeting that will determine the fate of the planet is taking place in ASEAN's backyard. If ASEAN intends to be relevant to the region’s needs, it must support a Bali Mandate for the extension and expansion of the Kyoto Protocol towards a second commitment period with deeper emissions cuts,” Ballesteros said. Greenpeace is calling on the ASEAN to establish clear, binding renewables and energy efficiency targets for Southeast Asia.

While no single extreme weather event, such as a cyclone that took place in Bangladesh last week can be directly attributed to climate change, the IPCC is projecting an increase in the frequency of such severe weather events.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Nicky Wimble, Communications Manager, Oxfam International: +66 81 8147756
Athena Ballesteros, Campaigner, Greenpeace International: +63 91 78131562
Red Constantino, Campaigner, Greenpeace International: +63 91 75241123