Commentary

For South-east Asia, climate change is just as dangerous

For South-east Asia, climate change is just as dangerous
The flood in Bangkok in 2011 was estimated to have cost Thailand S$21 billion and economists say it would take much more than that for recovery. Photo: Sion Touhig
Published: 4:02 AM, June 10, 2013
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The big question facing Southeast Asia’s policymakers today is not making a choice between butter and guns, but how to face the growing threats from other various sources, including climate change.

Given the chronic scarcity of resources, can countries in Southeast Asia cope with the long-term impact of climate change not just on their economies, but also on their citizens and their livelihoods?

Imagine that climate change is reducing the world’s gross domestic product by 1.6 per cent, which is about US$1.2 trillion (S$1.5 trillion). This is like the Republic of Korea’s economy being wiped out from the world economic map.

Let’s take another specific example. The Mekong Delta helps Vietnam become a big exporter of rice to the world. Vietnam is a major contributor to the world’s food security.

Local scientists, however, predict that if Vietnam cannot stop climate change and its impact at the current level, which is among the worst in the world, Vietnam will have to import rice five times larger in volume than its export today. In addition, sea-level rise, coupled with river-level drop, is salinating vast areas of the Delta, potentially affecting the livelihoods of millions of people.

From land to the oceans, climate change is having a major impact. It is thought to change the natural formation of the islands and affecting the resources in the South China Sea on which different claims have been made.

Equally alarming, climate change may increase the likelihood of the resort to violence. Under the stress of climate change, competition for natural resources might well lead to conflicts between nations, as forecast by experts.

For instance, lack of access to water due to low availability and human factors might threaten to increase tensions and undermine the hard-won peace and stability of South-east Asia. It is therefore sensible to state that the bigger question for every regional government and various organisations today is the strategic one.

FAR-REACHING REPERCUSSIONS

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