ADB’s Chilling Report on Pacific Climate Change

With world climate talks in Warsaw droning on to come up with a lukewarm agreement to require governments to set targets on curbing greenhouse gas emissions to curb global warming, on the other side of the world the Asian Development Bank is growing increasingly concerned about looming disaster for low-lying Asian countries. In its second major report in little over a month, the Manila-based ADB said the Pacific’s developing member countries, with limited agricultural land and economic activities concentrated on low-lying coastal areas, face almost inevitably rising waters as the oceans heat up and polar ice caps shrink. The report is being released against the backdrop of Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, which struck the Philippines Nov. 8, taking the lives of at least 5,240 people and destroying or damaging one million homes. The intensity of the storm has been blamed some climatologists on the rising temperatures of the oceans from global warming. In October, the ADB issued another major report, titled Economics of Climate Change in East Asia, indicating that as many as 2 million people in 23 Asian cities are at risk from rising sea levels, severe storms and intensified drought that could jeopardize US$864 billion in assets, including three major conurbations – the Pearl River Delta, Shanghai and the Kyoto-Osaka region in Japan – which are particularly at risk from rising sea waters. In the current 104-page report, titled Economics of Climate Change in the Pacific, ADB researchers say there will be net negative impacts of climate change by 2050 regardless of which economic and model is used. If the world stays on the current fossil-fuel intensive growth model., the researchers warn, climate change cost in the Pacific is estimated to reach 12.7 percent of annual GDP equivalent by 2100. “Even under a low emissions scenario in which the global economy is assumed to restructure itself to be service-oriented, the economic loss would still reach 4.6 percent.” Losses are projected to rise over time under all scenarios, and would be largest with high emissions scenarios. The report identified Timor Leste, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu as particularly at risk although the study covers 23 Pacific nations. The results suggest that PNG would experience the most significant losses from projected climate change, reaching 15.2 percent of its GDP by 2100, followed by Timor-Leste at 10.0 percent, Vanuatu, 6.2 percent, Solomon Islands, 4.7 percent, Fiji, 4.0 percent, and Samoa, 3.8 percent. Annual mean temperatures are projected to rise in the Pacific by a 1.8°C by 2050 under a medium emissions scenario. By 2070 under the same scenario, Fiji and Samoa are projected to experience an average temperature rise of approximately 2°C from the 1990 level. The PNG, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, and Vanuatu are expected to experience a temperature increase of more than 2.5°C on average by 2070, with some areas in these countries experiencing an increase of nearly 3°C in the same period relative to the 1990 level, the report says. It also predicts a significant increase in the frequency of both El Nino and La Nina events, generally accompanied by intensified extreme weather events, extreme temperature, extreme wind, and extreme rainfall although cyclone frequency is generally expected to decline. High-range estimates suggest all the Pacific developing countries except Kiribati face a sea-level rise of more than 1.0 meters by 2100 under the medium emissions scenario. The Marshalls average just 2.1 meters above sea level. The government of Kiribati is making plans to evacuate is entire population. “Overall, global warming is expected to negatively impact crop productivity in the Pacific, according to the report. “The largest yield losses are projected for sweet potato in PNG and the Solomon Islands, with losses in excess of 50 percent of yield for the former by 2050 under the medium emissions scenario. For sugarcane, losses would be relatively small in 2050, but would rise in Fiji by 2070 to a more substantial 7-21 percent. Maize would have moderate losses of 6-14 percent in Timor-Leste and Vanuatu by 2050, with a rise to 14-17 percent by 2070 in the former. Results also show cassava and taro would be significantly impacted. Rainfed agriculture appears to be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.” Under a high emissions scenario, catches of skipjack tuna for the western Pacific are estimated to decline by an average of more than 20 percent, and for the PNG by as much as 30 percent. Across the entire region, total catch is projected to decrease by 7.5 percent under the same scenario by 2100. For big-eye tuna, small decreases in catch, usually less than 5 percent) are projected by 2035. Under the high emissions scenario in 2100 climate change would likely also impact tourism, another key economic sector, to islands once considered paradise. As the world warms, the entire Pacific’s attraction as a tourism magnet is expected to lessen and revenues are projected to fall. “By the end of the century, tourist numbers are projected to be approximately a third lower than in a business-as-usual scenario,” the report notes. “Under all climate scenarios, the impact of climate change would be to reduce tourism revenues by 27 percent to 34 percent for the Pacific region as a whole.” Mass coral bleaching due to thermal stress has already occurred in the Pacific region and is expected to recur. The estimate of present coral area in the Pacific in 2000 is around 80 percent of what would have been in the absence of thermal stress (in the pre-industrial era). The analysis indicates that the Pacific would experience an increase in thermal stress that would likely result in a significant decline in coral reef cover, from 88 percent in the base year (1995) to 55 percent in 2050 and 20 percent in 2100. Finally, climate change is expected to adversely impact human health, the authors note. Mortality and morbidity costs together are expected to reach 0.8 percent of GDP by 2100 under a high emissions scenario. Most of the estimated health costs would arise from respiratory disorders, followed by malaria and deaths from tropical storms. By 2100, approximately 80 percent of total mortality cost is projected to be caused by respiratory disorders due to climate change, and 14 percent by vector-borne diseases, particularly malaria. The negative effect on agriculture contributes most to the total cost of climate change, followed by the cost of cooling households and buildings. “When income and population growth in the urban areas are considered, the cost of cooling is estimated to reach $1,017 million or 2.8 percent of the region’s annual GDP equivalent by 2100. Economic impacts in the coastal areas would also be significant. The impacts in the coastal areas would consist of three components: dryland loss, wetlands loss, and forced migration. The total impact in the coastal areas, through all three channels, is projected at $469 million or 1.3 percent of the region’s annual GDP equivalent by 2100. These costs don’t include the potential cost of such catastrophic events as Haiyan/Yolanda, which is expected to cost the Philippines US$559 million) in damage, nearly evenly split between infrastructure and agriculture. The cost of rebuilding houses, schools, roads and bridges in the typhoon-devastated central Philippines could reach $6-7 billion, or some 2.3 percent of GDP. The ADB estimates that the Pacific region would require $447 million on average every year until 2050, approximately 1.5 percent of GDP, to prepare for the worst case scenario under the business-as-usual scenario. The cost could be as high as $775 million or 2.5 percent of GDP per annum. The cost of adaptation would be significantly lower under lower emissions scenarios. If the world manages to stabilize CO2 concentration below 450ppm, the adaptation cost is expected to be as low as $158 million or 0.5 percent of GDP per annum during the same period. The report lists a series of policy changes necessary to combat the problem including adopting a risk-based approach to adaptation and disaster-risk management, climate proofing infrastructure, improving access to climate finance and others.