Climate change threats outlined for Vietnam and SE Asia

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[HANOI] Vietnam’s position as one of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change has been confirmed in a report launched by the Asian Development Bank.

It predicts that by the end of the century rice production will decline dramatically and rising sea levels could submerge tens of thousands of hectares of cropland, forcing thousands of families in coastal areas to relocate. More than 12 million people could be affected by increased water stress.

The study considers possible responses to climate change in South-East Asia as a whole, comparing the costs of intervention with the resulting benefits. It uses reviews of previous studies, impact assessment models and consultations with climate change experts.

A ‘business as usual’ approach to greenhouse gas emissions could mean that sea levels rise by 70 centimetres by the end of the century; rainfall declines over 20–30 years in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam and increases in the Philippines; large tracts of forest are replaced by savannah or shrub land; and water stress affects more 20 million in South-East Asia by 2050.

By the end of the century climate change will cost South-East Asian countries the equivalent of 6.7 per cent of GDP each year. This dwarfs the costs of the current financial crisis.

The study concludes that the benefits of investing in adaptation and mitigation outweigh the costs, highlighting the forestry sector as having the greatest potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the region.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) report calls on South-East Asian governments to introduce green stimulus programmes that will also help address the global financial crisis.

It claims they could reduce their carbon emissions by up to 40 per cent by 2020; profiting by investing in more energy-efficient power plants, lighting appliances, transportation and industrial equipment. 

"Countries have everything to gain and nothing to lose by investing in these low-cost and no-cost adaptation and mitigation measures," says Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, ADB’s vice-president for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development.

At a seminar organised to coincide with the report’s launch, scientists raised concerns about Vietnam’s ability to deal with climate change, saying it will need US$120 million between 2009 and 2015 to adapt.

Climate change is a real threat to achieving the Millenium Development Goals in Vietnam, said vice chairman Ngo Quang Xuan of Vietnam’s Foreign Affairs Committee, adding that the impact of climate change on Vietnam’s social and economic development and environment have not yet been fully measured.

Ayumi Konishi, ADB’s country director for Vietnam, said it would face "mounting economic challenges unless global warming is controlled".

The report, The Economics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia: A Regional Review, was launched last week (27 April).