Global warming and climate change impacts in East Asia

Clearly, the global effects of climate change are potentially major, and will likely lead to many adverse consequences, difficult choices, and expensive adaptation measures for much of the world's population. The countries of East Asia will not be immune to these changes, and in most cases will be among the worst affected due to their vulnerable geographies and economies. Effects may not always be adverse, but even if they are not they will likely increase unpredictability and require adaptation. What are the expected impacts of climate change in East Asia? Several research reports have anticipated the effects of climate change for the region. Some of their findings are summarized here to convey the scale and nature of the potential changes, many of which are elaborated in later chapters of this book.

According to a 1997 report from the IPCC on anticipated regional impacts of climate change (IPCC 1997),5 temperate Asia (including Japan, the Koreas, and most of China) has experienced an average annual temperature increase of more than 1 degree Celsius in the last century, mostly since the 1970s, with substantial warming expected in this century. Rainfall is expected to change in the area, with substantial declines expected in most of China (notably northern provinces). Permafrost in northeast China is expected to disappear (with release of methane, thus adding GHGs to the atmosphere) and glaciers will melt. Northern China is particularly vulnerable to expected changes in rainfall, exacerbating existing water shortages (see Nielson and McElroy 1998; Yin 2000). The area is likely to experience changing agricultural yields, with many crops likely to see reductions and a northward movement of crop zones and anticipated shortages of round-wood (partly due to increased demand). Delta coastlines in China "face severe problems" from sea-level rise, which will include salt water intrusion into aquifers. Japan will not be immune; already many parts of major coastal urban areas, with millions of residents, are below the mean high-water mark. Providing protection for only some of these cities will cost tens of billions of dollars. Japan's beaches, which comprise about a quarter of its coastline, will be subject to erosion - and over half of existing beaches may disappear. Additionally, heat-related deaths throughout temperate Asia may increase sevenfold by the middle of this century.

The potential effects of climate change for tropical Asia (encompassing Southeast Asia) are also described in the IPCC's 1997 regional report. It points out that the region already suffers from increasing pollution, land degradation, and all manner of environmental problems resulting from rapid urbanization, industrialization, and economic development. Climate change will exacerbate these problems. In this area, mean temperatures have already gone up by 0.3-0.8 degrees Celsius over the last 100 years. Forest cover will change as a consequence, possibly increasing, and forest types may change. Changes in evaporation and rainfall are likely to have detrimental effects on freshwater wetlands. Coastal areas will be most greatly affected by sea-level rise and increased ocean temperatures (the latter possibly preventing coral reefs from keeping up with sea-level rise). Mangrove and tidal wetlands will have difficulty adapting due to bordering infrastructure and human activities. Greater erosion, coastal flooding, and salinization of fresh water sources are probable. Delta regions of Southeast Asian countries are particularly vulnerable, and throughout this area several million people could be displaced by sea-level rise (see Binnie 1998). The costs of responding to the impacts of rising seas, in the words of the IPCC, could be immense. Glaciers feeding the area's rivers will melt, and there may be yearly reductions - albeit between seasonal flooding - in the flow of snow-fed rivers, adversely affecting agriculture, hydropower generation, and urban water supplies. Agriculture will probably suffer (despite CO2 fertilization) from temperature and moisture changes and possibly from increased pests, affecting, for example, wheat, rice, and sorghum crops (although much uncertainty, confounding planning, will obtain). According to the IPCC report, poor rural populations depending on traditional forms of agriculture or living on marginal lands are especially vulnerable. Increased vector-borne diseases such as dengue, malaria, and schistosomiasis will adversely affect human health in this area.

A 1999 report on climate change impacts prepared by Britain's Climatic Research Unit summarized many potential impacts for some of the countries of

East Asia (Hulme 1999). In China, temperature increases are predicted to be greatest over northern areas, with changes in precipitation and threats to biodiversity. In Indonesia, forest fires are predicted to increase and endangered species may be threatened. In Japan, heat waves will increase in frequency and intensity, coastlines and coastal infrastructure will be harmed, and reefs will be stressed. In the Philippines, rainfall will increase during the wet season and decrease during the dry season, reefs will suffer from warming water, and potentially millions of people will be threatened by sea-level rise.

Von Hippel (1997: 8) has summarized a few of the possible impacts of climate change in Northeast Asia: pressure on agricultural resources and accelerated desertification leading to cross-border migrations, particularly from China to Russia; adverse climatic effects on North Korea's food production, possibly increasing military pressure on South Korea and creating economic burdens for reunification; increased demand for air conditioning, leading to higher fuel consumption and hence more local and regional air pollution (and adding still further to GHG emissions); salinization of breeding grounds for fish from sea-level rise, leading to reduced fishery yields that could exacerbate conflicts over marine resources; additional oil pollution (from shipments of oil imports) that may strain relations among countries sharing marine resources and shipping lanes; and increased economic costs from natural disasters like catastrophic storms, straining emergency and disaster relief resources in the region.

The 2001 TAR assessment of vulnerability in Asia shows that the region is potentially more susceptible to climate change than are some other regions of the world (IPCC Working Group II 2001; see also IPCC 1997).6 It concludes that the developing countries of Asia are highly vulnerable to climate change, and their adaptability is low. (Developed countries of the region (e.g. Japan) are of course less vulnerable because they are more able to adapt to climate change.) Floods, forest fires, cyclones, droughts and other extreme events have increased in temperate and tropical Asia. The TAR anticipates that while agricultural productivity could increase in northern parts of Asia, food security would suffer in arid, tropical, and temperate Asia due to reduced agricultural and aquaculture productivity from warmer water, sea-level rise, floods, droughts, and cyclones. Water availability may decrease in arid and semi-arid Asia and possibly increase in northern Asia, and increased incidence of vector-borne diseases and heat-stress will threaten human health. Temperate and tropical Asia should anticipate increased rainfall and floods, and sea-level rise and more intense storms could "displace tens of millions of people in low-lying coastal areas of temperate and tropical Asia" (IPCC Working Group II 2001: 16). Some parts of Asia will see climate change effects on transport, increased demand for energy, and adverse impacts on tourism. Land-use and land-cover changes will threaten biodiversity, and sea-level rise will adversely impact coral reefs and mangrove areas that are important for fisheries.

What comes from these (and other) reports on the impacts of climate change in East Asia is that many of the effects will be felt most by - and be most painful for - the developing countries of the region. They are generally more vulnerable and least able to cope due to poverty and existing environmental problems and resource scarcities. A very large number of people throughout East Asia live in low-lying coastal regions, and they are threatened by sea-level rise, land subsidence, inundation of fresh water aquifers by salt water, and more frequent and violent storms from climate change. Island countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines are especially vulnerable to climate change effects. They can expect freshwater shortages and damage to coastal areas and adjacent infrastructure, with concomitant adverse effects on tourism. (Indeed, in extreme cases it may one day be necessary for some small-island states to abandon their territory altogether. Representatives from these countries have for some time argued that they are already feeling the effects of rising oceans (Kristoff 1997).) Other poorer countries in the region are vulnerable. For example, the World Bank reported that Chinese research has estimated that a 1-meter rise in sea level would inundate 92,000 square kilometers of China's coast, displacing 67 million people (and more as population increases) (World Bank 1997). According to one assessment, future climate change will reduce soil moisture in China, particularly in the north, and this will increase the demand for agricultural irrigation, which will in turn add to existing severe water shortages. In short, "Possible impacts of climate change on Chinese agriculture could be highly disruptive ..." (Nielson and McElroy 1998: 24). Already vulnerable, China may also see greater weather extremes, including droughts in the north and floods in the south, and heat stroke and death will increase, as may occurrences of malaria, dengue fever, and other diseases (Nielson and McElroy 1998: 24-25).

An ever-growing body of research shows that climate change will (and probably has already) adversely affected human health, and this is particularly true of East Asia (see Martens 1998; Woodward et al. 1998). Southeast Asia is especially vulnerable to anticipated increasing incidence of vector-born diseases (Binnie 1998; Martens 1998: 54-61). Hotter weather will increase heat-related mortality in the region, as indicated by historical studies from China showing a strong correlation between peak summer temperatures and death rates (World Bank 1997).

But even the developed countries and regions of East Asia are unlikely to avoid harm from climate change. For example, while Japan's coastlines are not as vulnerable as those of China, the Philippines, and other countries, it is reasonable to expect that it will suffer costly damage from sea-level rise, associated storm surges, and adverse weather, and it has direct interests in the health of surrounding seas and indirect interest in what happens throughout the region. By way of example, recently reduced fish catches by Japanese fisherman have been attributed to changes in underwater currents triggered by global warming (Reuters 2001). And there will be adverse impacts for Japan's biodiversity, forests, agriculture, wetlands, and water systems, as well as for infrastructure and human health (see Nishioka and Harasawa 1998). According to the government, climate change effects have already become visible inJapan (Japan Times, April 27, 2001). For these and other reasons, Japan supports the climate change regime and the Kyoto Protocol (see Chapters 7-10 and Asakai 2001) - despite its greater ability to cope with climate change compared to its neighbors.

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