Eastern Asia

Climate Vulnerability
The region of East and Southeast Asia is characterized by considerable climatic diversity—from the tropical archipelagic countries of Indonesia and Philippines, to the tropical monsoon climates of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam, to the more continental and arid climates of Mongolia and western China (USDS, 2011). A rise in temperatures of 0.1o to 0.3oC per decade between 1951 and 2000 has been observed in the region (Cruz et al., 2007). This trend is projected to continue during this century. In East Asia, temperatures could rise by at least 3oC (based upon the low emissions B1 scenario) and potentially up to almost 7oC (based upon the high emission A1F1 scenario) by the 2070 to 2099 time period. In Southeast Asia, temperature increases are projected to be more moderate, rising by 1.87o to 3.92oC by the 2070 to 2099 time period.

Climate change is also projected to lead to more variable and intense rainfall patterns throughout the region. By the period of 2080 to 2099, mean annual rainfall is projected to increase by 9 per cent in East Asia and 7 per cent in Southeast Asia. However, large differences remain between the projections generated by different models (Christensen et al., 2007).   Uncertainty remains regarding how the characteristics of extreme weather events may change in the future in East and Southeast Asia, due to the complexity associated with modeling their occurrences. Increasing variability of rainfall patterns is already being measured in China, Indonesia and the Philippines (Cruz et al., 2007). While there is a great degree of uncertainty to sea-level rise projections, models suggest that a global rise of between 0.18 to 0.38 meters on the low end to 0.25 to 0.6 meters on the high end could occur during this century (Meehl et al., 2007). Such a rise would be devastating to a region with many low-lying islands and coastal areas, including the densely populated Mekong Delta.

Identified Adaptation Needs and Priorities
Water resources, agriculture and coastal resource management (except for the landlocked countries of Lao PDR and Mongolia) are areas of adaptation need and priority identified by all countries in the region. Additional priorities identified by more than half of all countries in the region are: disaster risk reduction, particularly with respect to floods, droughts and—in Southeast Asia—typhoons; forestry; terrestrial ecosystems; health; policy integration; and research and the improved provision of meteorology information. Some of the specific needs and priorities include:

  • Water resources: Much of East and Southeast Asia already faces water stress (IFAD, 2009) and this situation is projected to be exacerbated by greater glacial melt in Mongolia and China, intrusion of saltwater into freshwater resources in coastal areas, and potential modification of the Mekong River system. Actions suggested in response by countries in the region include strengthening water conservation and water efficiency practices, improving irrigation practices, improving flood monitoring, forecasting and management capacity, increasing water availability through better water allocation procedures and construction of reservoirs, restoring vegetation cover and controlling soil erosion, and protecting water resources from pollution.
  • Agriculture: Throughout East and Southeast Asia, agriculture is expected to be heavily affected by a combination of higher temperatures, greater variability in rainfall patterns, altered growing seasons, extreme weather events, sea-level rise and associated impacts on water availability and quality. Measures proposed in response include increased education and capacity building for farmers, identification of climate resilient crops, introduction of climate resilient cropping techniques, diversification of products, and better access to meteorological information that can assist in weather forecasting and planting schedules.
  • Coastal resource management: Although uncertainty remains regarding the degree to which sea levels will rise, storm surges will be affected and tropical cyclones might be altered by climate change, it is expected that these changes will adversely impact the coastal regions of East and Southeast Asia. Adaptation measures identified to reduce this vulnerability include capacity building of local residents, introduction of Integrated Coastal Zone Management, improved coastal hazard management, ecosystem protection, improved aquaculture, and land use planning and infrastructure development that accounts for sea-level rise.

Policy Level Actions
Considerable variation in policy formation, strategy development and planning for adaptation exists within East and Southeast Asia. Some countries, namely Myanmar and Timor-Leste, have not yet completed their first National Communications to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These two least developed countries (LDCs) are also continuing to develop their National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs); the other two LDCs in the region, Cambodia and Lao PDR, have completed theirs. Other countries, such as China and Viet Nam, have relatively coherent plans for meeting their adaptation needs. As a country’s needs are heavily related to water resources, coastal zones and agriculture, most plans focus on these sectors.

There are a number of regional forums in which adaptation is being addressed, including the Mekong River Commission (MRC)  and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  The MRC is charged with the shared management of the Mekong River, which traverses between its member countries and serves as a vital regional resource. The MRC’s Climate Change and Adaptation Initiative addresses concerns related to rainfall patterns, extreme weather events, extreme temperatures, sea-level rise, displaced persons and changes in river and tributary flow. The ASEAN takes a broader view, looking to develop a collaborative regional approach on climate change. Activities planned and underway include the development of an ASEAN Climate Change Initiative, promotion of shared knowledge on adaptation, regional strategies on capacity building, and development of climate scenarios.

Source: Review of Current and Planned Adaptation Action: East and Southeast Asia. Contributing Authors: Philip Gass, Hilary Hove, Jo-Ellen Parry (International Institute for Sustainable Development), 2011.