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Asia 'under threat'

Interview: Gabriel DomínguezJune 6, 2014

As the planet experiences more extreme weather events, tackling climate change has become a pressing issue - especially in Asia. IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri warns hundreds of millions will suffer unless nations act.

Residents (R) stand along a sea wall as high waves pounded them amidst strong winds as Typhoon Haiyan hit the city of Legaspi, Albay province, south of Manila on November 8, 2013.
Image: Getty Images/Afp/Charism Sayat

The overwhelming majority of scientists agree that the Earth's climate is changing. They are confident that the unusually high or low temperatures, the shifting snow and rainfall patterns, rises in sea level and the frequency of extreme climate events affecting the planet can all be linked to rising levels of manmade greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

One of the most vulnerable regions to climate change is the Asia-Pacific, especially for its low-lying coastal areas and island states. Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), tells DW that hundreds of millions of people will be affected by coastal flooding and displaced due to climate change by 2100 unless the international community takes decisive action.

DW: How big of a threat is climate change for Asia?

Rajendra Pachauri: All areas of the globe, including Asia, are under increasing threat of climate change. Climate change is a very complex subject, but it is primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels and land-use policies that reduce the planet's natural ability to avert climate change.

Rajendra K. Pachauri
Pachauri: "The risks of inaction include death, injury, and disrupted livelihoods"Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The more greenhouse gases we emit, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, the more warming will occur. If we continue to emit greenhouses gases at or above the current rate, we will see changes to our climate system in all regions of the globe. These will include changes to the water cycle, increases in sea level and ocean acidification and other phenomena that would persist for many centuries.

How much is the sea level expected to rise in the coming years?

The global mean sea level rose by 0.19 meter from 1901 to 2010 - an unusually high rate. It is very likelythat the rate of global mean sea level rise during the 21st century will accelerate due to increased ocean warming and loss of glaciers and ice sheets.

The future rise will depend on the degree to which we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The IPCC's most recent estimates, which are based on the available scientific literature, indicate that the global mean sea level rise will be between 0.26 and 0.81 meters by the end of this century.

What impact will the rising sea level have on Asian countries if governments fail to take action?

The risks of inaction include death, injury, and disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small-island developing states, due to sea-level rise, coastal flooding and storm surges.

By 2100, due to climate change and development patterns and without adaptation, hundreds of millions of people will be affected by coastal flooding and displaced due to land loss.

The most vulnerable countries will be those with large populations along extended, low-lying coastlines and which do not have the financial means to adequately protect themselves. The majority of those affected will be in East, Southeast, and South Asia.

How well is the region prepared to respond to the risks posed by climate change?

Preparations vary widely by country. Just as less well-off countries tend to be less adequately prepared, wealthier nations tend to be better prepared.

What must Asian governments do to limit the impact of climate change?

Solutions to climate change are to be found at the local, national and international levels. I have been encouraged by some of the recent local and national initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, based on this progress, I am cautiously optimistic that we may be able to secure a global agreement to turn back climate change when negotiators meet in Paris at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2015.

Rajendra Pachauri is the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Nobel Prize-winning UN climate panel for assessing the science related to climate change. It was set up in 1988 to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.