Thailand floods a 'wake-up' call for Asia: ADB

Posted at 12/01/11 1:16 PM

SINGAPORE - Devastating floods in Thailand and other parts of Asia are a wake-up call to governments to do more to cope with the effects of climate change, a top Asian Development Bank official has warned.

Asia is dotted with large coastal cities from Shanghai to Calcutta that are vulnerable to flooding, and governments need to put in place long-term solutions to deal with the problem, said David McCauley, the ADB's lead climate change specialist.

Research suggested that more floods of the scale that hit Thailand in recent months, leaving more than 600 dead affecting millions of livelihoods, are likely as climate change progresses, he said.

"I think that these events are wake-up calls for governments around the region to pay more attention to these long term trends," McCauley told AFP in Singapore on Tuesday during a stopover on his way to climate change talks in Durban.

"It's the wave of the future so they need to better cope with climate change impacts."

McCauley said a study last year carried out jointly by the Manila-based ADB, the World Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency forecast the flooding in Thailand -- but did not predict how soon it would come.

"The floods that we saw in Thailand are consistent with what's predicted to occur as a result of climate change," he said.

"The study looked at Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Manila and what can be expected over the next 40-50 years. It predicted exactly the kind of things that occurred in Bangkok."

McCauley said the region should not just brace for floods but also droughts and heatwaves.

After the floods, "we can have a drought next year and a heatwave the following year and all of that would be consistent with what's been predicted as a result of climate change," he said.

"So it's not any one set of measures that need to be taken. All of these new risks need to be considered and fed into the way cities are being developed and the way social protection measures are designed," he added.

"All across Asia you have these big coastal cities with enormous populations at risk," he cautioned.

This should prompt governments to put more emphasis on urban planning and implementing stricter systems in issuing building permits for residential and industrial sites.

Environmental consciousness is "definitely finding its way into the fabric of economic development policy and practice" in Asia but strong policy frameworks must be implemented soon, he said.

Asia has now become the largest source of new greenhouse gas emissions as a result of the rapid economic growth in China and India and continued deforestation in Indonesia, McCauley said.

The majority of new infrastructure to be build worldwide in the next 20 years will be in Asia, he noted.

"Unless we get this right, unless those transport systems and those power plants are energy efficient and low carbon, then we're going to lock in for another 40-50 years the old patterns of high carbon intensive development," he warned.

If current patterns do not change, Asia will account for 40-45 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector alone by 2030, he said.

This will rise to more than 50 percent if greenhouse gas emissions from land use and deforestation are added.

"Asia has more people at risk from the adverse impact of climate change than any other region of the world, which also gives it a stake in trying to find solutions to the problem," he said.