Climate change: Major focus of economic research

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    ALL REGIONS of the Philippines, the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam, almost all the regions of Cambodia, the northern and southern parts of Laos, the Bangkok region of Thailand, and West and South Sumatra and West and East Java of Indonesia.

    These are the most vulnerable areas in Southeast Asia when it comes to the impacts of climate change.

    “The exposure of the Philippines is more extreme compared to other Southeast Asian countries in that it is not only exposed to tropical cyclones (especially in the northern and eastern parts of the country) but also to many other climate hazards particularly floods (such as in central Luzon and southern Mindanao), landslides (due to the terrain of the country), and droughts,” noted the 84-page book, Hotspots!

    Mapping Climate Change Vulnerability in Southeast Asia. The World Disaster Report 2012 ranked the Philippines as the third most disasterprone country “due to its high exposure to natural calamities.” In the last three years, three powerful typhoons entered the country:

    Sendong (international name: “Washi”) in 2011, Pablo (“Bopha”) in 2012, and Yolanda (Haiyan) last year.

    In a foreword for a World Bank report, Secretary Mary Ann Lucille Sering of the Climate Change Commission wrote: “The country’s exposure to extreme weather conditions adversely affects people’s lives, especially those in high-risk urban and coastal areas. Food security is threatened as land and nursery areas for plants, trees, and fisheries are affected by climate change.”

    Although climate change affects everyone, it is the poor who are usually “more severely affected.” As Sering puts it: “The livelihoods of poor communities that rely on natural resources are hampered and their lives and properties are further put at risk.”

    Dr. Benoit Laplante, an independent consultant and adjunct professor at the School of Public Policy of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, has ranked 25 cities in the region which are most vulnerable to storm surges brought about by climate change.

    Among those listed in the top 15 in the Philippines are Metro Manila (ranked first), Taguig (10th place), and Davao (15th place). The Philippines, however, is not the only country affected by climate change.

    “In South Asia, projected changes to the monsoon system and rising peak temperatures put water and food resources at severe risk,” notes the World Bank report, Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience. “Energy security is threatened, too.

    While, across South East Asia, rural livelihoods are faced with mounting pressures as sea level rises, tropical cyclones increase in intensity and important marine ecosystem services are lost…”

    No country is spared. “Climate change is a global challenge and a serious threat that requires urgent response from all sectors,” said Dr. Herminia A. Francisco, the convenor of the Conference on the Economics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia, which was held at Siem Reap, Cambodia recently.

    “Whether climate change is real or if it will affect societies and economies are no longer in question,” said Dr. Francisco who addressed the participants mostly from the region, particularly Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam and those from other countries (Australia, Finland, China, Taiwan, and the United States).

    “Among the questions we now need immediate answers are: How climate change will affect us? How much climate change cost us? And what are the cost-effective/efficient ways to adapt?” asked Dr. Francisco, who is the program director of Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA).

    Dr. Francisco believed several studies have been already. “For our research findings to have impact on how we address the challenges presented by climate change, efforts must be made to communicate them widely — not only to end users and policy makers, but also to fellow researchers,” she pointed out.

    “By doing so, we not only avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts but we also receive useful peer insights, especially on what areas need further research,” added the energetic lady whose written works cover topics such as the economics of soil erosion and conservation, the pricing of environmental services, and institutional issues governing the management of common pool resources.

    Southeast Asia is among the most dynamic regions in the world. “From a long-term perspective, the economic progress throughout the region has been remarkable, characterized by rapid growth in prosperity and massive reduction in poverty,” said a statement released during the conference.

    Going with the “business as usual” scenario, the region’s current 600 million population will be one of the wealthiest in the world. But there’s a hitch: “climate change threatens this prospect of prosperity,” the statement said.

    “Southeast Asia’s geography, population density, and reliance on its natural resource sector make it one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change. Even today, the region’s exposure to weather-related hazards has shown how vulnerable this region is to climate change impacts.”

    Changes in climate, it is said, will impact global ecosystem services. Scientists not that about 20-30% of all species is at risk of extinction “if the global average temperature rises by 1.5 to 2.5 degrees.”

    “As such, ecosystems are becoming more vulnerable and their long-term capacity to adapt is drastically decreasing,” said the conference statement.

    The statement also urged insurance industry to make “larger efforts in promoting climate-related insurance.” It suggested that it should come up with a “useful tool in enhancing society’s adaptive capacity in dealing with extreme climate events.”

    Most experts agree that economic modeling of climate change is a herculean task. “Making climate change adaptation decisions is particularly difficult since they rely on uncertainties related to climate projections and developments in natural systems and sectors that are affected by other uncertainties,” the statement noted.

    “Climate change impacts and adaptation also influence a wide range of stakeholders with different interests; hence projection exhibit large uncertainties arising from assumptions on greenhouse gas emissions, incomplete climate models, and the downscaling of climate projections.”

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