Climate change impacts threaten to stall economic development in Asia and the Pacific, and endanger the health and safety of its vast population. Climate change causes temperature, wind, and precipitation to vary, with profound effects on natural systems. These in turn have effects on the health, safety, and livelihoods of people—especially poor people. Nowhere in the world are as many people affected by climate change as in Asia and the Pacific.
Asian Development Bank
Understanding and Responding to Climate Change in Developing Asia (2009)
Asia-Pacific is arguably the most vulnerable region to the adverse effects of climate change – and the events of the past years can attest to that. The year 2011 commenced with the worst floods in Sri Lanka‘s recent history, deluging 11 of the country‘s 25 districts, destroying 125,000 acres of rice fields, and affecting around 1 million people. In the latter part of the year, Thailand‘s capital and surrounding provinces were inundated by unprecedented floods that claimed more than 800 lives, affected 3 million households and cost the economy up to USD 45 billion. At around the same time, 17 out of the 23 provinces in Cambodia were also severely flooded, leaving more than 200 deaths and 1.2 million people displaced. In 2013, the devastation brought by the strongest typhoon to hit land on record, tropical storm Haiyan (local name: Yolanda), in central Philippines left thousands of deaths and millions homeless.
The immense cost of these natural catastrophes proves that countries in the Asia-Pacific region are facing the greatest risks from erratic weather patterns characterized by sea-level rise, increasing intensity of tropical storms and greater rainfall variability. In the 2013 World Risk Index Ranking released by the United Nations University‘s Institute for Environment and Human Security, the most vulnerable countries to natural disasters can be found in the Asia-Pacific Region. In a way, the vulnerability of these countries is a result of a geography which made them expose and susceptible to nature‘s fury. Vulnerability, however, is also a product of coping or adaptive capacities, or lack of it, which can affect a country‘s readiness to immediately respond to disasters or adapt to their impacts.
The United Nations defines adaptation as “the adjustment in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts”. It added that the concept refers to “changes in processes, practices, or structures to moderate or offset potential damages or to take advantage of opportunities associated with changes in climate.”
Adaptation, in essence, involves adjustments to decrease the vulnerability to climate change and increase resilience to future impacts. Considering that rising temperatures, intensifying typhoons, widespread flooding and devastating droughts have become “the new normal”, building people‘s capacities to adapt becomes more important than ever.
Head of CALD Climate Change Committee and Philippine Presidential Adviser on Environmental Concerns Secretary (Minister) Neric Acosta highlights the exigency of building resilience and adaptation in this era of changing weather patterns. He summarized the Components of an Effective Adaptation Strategy through the mnemonic device ―4Is – Information, Investments, Institutions, and Innovation.
Information. Secretary Acosta emphasized the value of technology in gathering information relevant to formulating adaptation policies and strategies. He said, “The wealth of empirical data with GPS and other satellite-driven technology allows us to view and utilize scientific information (from simple simulations to the more sophisticated assemblage of graphs and maps) as sound tools for preparedness, planning and policy- making. We cannot manage that which we are not able to measure, or monitor that which we are not able to map. When geo-hazard and vulnerable areas are identified, for example, land-use planning for local communities can be rationalized. It follows that when we are able to simulate scenarios and extrapolate from aggregated data, we will craft infrastructure programs differently.”
Investments. Building resilience and adaptation to climate change also entails a rethinking not only in making business investments but also in investing in climate- resilient infrastructure. As what Secretary Acosta said, “…taking into account economic costs and benefits in the context of climate-change realities, where and how we manage investments will be crucial… In agriculture, climate-resistant varieties of rice or other crops will have to be cultivated… Houses and buildings will have to be more climate-smart or climate-proof, not simply as a matter of ̳green design,‘ but of ensuring settlements are resilient and able to adapt to harsh environmental vicissitudes.”
Institutions. Public and private institutions have a big role to play in fostering adaptation and resilience. “When government provides the platforms for intervention, it becomes a strong catalyst for business and other sectors to be engaged and for communities to act with a common direction — whether these have to do with ensuring early-warning systems, having quick response and rescue mechanisms, or establishing long-term integrated reforestation-watershed, agro-industrial development, and better land-use programs”, Secretary Acosta said.
Innovation. Innovation is the essence of adaptation. As it is not always easy to innovate, the process must be driven by persons or institutions with proven integrity in order to inspire people to action. As Secretary Acosta put it, “…information, investments and institutions on a whole will not have optimal reach and intergenerational impact if there is no sustained leadership that is driven both by integrity and imagination.”
In recognition of the importance of developing the people‘s adaptive capabilities and building their resilience in confronting climate change, the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) adopted a climate change programme in 2011. As the only alliance of liberal and democratic political parties in Asia, CALD can assist in the formulation and propagation of a liberal climate change agenda that highlights the necessity of adapting to climate change impacts. In doing so, CALD can pave the way in shaping and re-shaping the policies of Asian political parties and governments with regard to climate change in order to achieve an energy efficient, healthy, prosperous, and sustainable Asian region.