By Anam Zeb
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s fifth assessment report (AR5) produced a powerful warning to the world: “If we continue to emit CO2 at the rate at which we are doing, mean global surface temperatures are likely to exceed 2⁰ Celsius. Throughout the century, rising temperatures will increase both the global mean sea-level and the number of extreme weather events. The outlook, however, is not uniformly negative. The report notes that it is possible to limit the impacts of rising temperatures by reducing carbon emissions. But the necessary actions – individual, regional and global –are lacking.
The three reports – referred to as Working Groups – provide the full scientific and technical assessment of climate change and a summary for policy makers. The Assessment Reports form the basis for policies on adaptation, mitigation and negotiation at country levels, regional levels and the global level. The findings from AR5 hold particular significance for South Asian countries, where the impacts of climate change are already being felt. The leaders of South Asia, at community and country level, are under increasing pressure to make informed decisions to address the impacts of climate change.
To highlight the significance of AR5 for South Asia, Pakistan’s Leadership for Environment And Development organisation(LEAD), launched a report, as well as an accompanying report by the Climate Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) and reviewed by experts from LEAD Pakistan titled ‘The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report; What’s in it for South Asia?’. This was released in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, in events that targeted policymakers, civil society, academia, young researchers, and the public. Lead authors from all the Working Groups were invited to present at the events, all of whom conveyed the concern that climate related risks which threaten lives, food security, health and wellbeing across South Asia, are on the rise.
The report states that the Asian region as a whole experienced the most weather and climate -elated disasters in the world between 2000 and 2008- as well as suffering up to 30% of total global economic losses. Flood related death and health issues are highly concentrated in Asia. In the South Asian region contaminated flood waters have caused exposure to disease and toxic compounds, as well as the prevalence of Dengue and Malaria, and Japanese Encephalitis. Compared to average annual temperatures in the 20th century, average annual temperatures could rise by more than 2 degrees over land in most of South Asia by the mid-21st century. Rainfall trends are likely to become increasingly erratic, with frequent and heavy rainfall days projected over South Asia. Under both low and high emissions scenarios, sea levels will rise, challenging South Asia’s coastal communities, economies, cultures and ecosystems, particularly in combination with tropical cyclones, rainfall variation and disasters.
A further risk for South Asia is its growing urban population. By 2050, the report suggests that Asia’s urban population will account for over 50% of the global population. In South Asian cities, poor infrastructure, lack of zoning and building laws and poor service delivery suggest that climate related events such as urban flooding and Urban Heat Islands may cause more devastation than they should.
About the Author:
Anam Zeb is currently working as Associate Coordinator-Vulnerability and Resilience at LEAD Pakistan in its Climate Change Program. She is responsible for a range of research and capacity building activities relating to Climate Change, particularly adaptation, vulnerability, public policy, and the emerging topic of loss and damage, as well as managing local and regional level projects. She holds a Masters degree in Sustainable Natural Resource Management from the University of Leicester, UK, and regularly appears as a guest speaker in national television programs and other media activities.