Global warming will push Asia into reverse says new report

The biggest study yet from unique coalition of major poverty and environment groups reveals scale of climate impacts on international work — immediate action is needed before Asia goes 'Up in Smoke'

News, 19 November 2007

A new report - Up in Smoke? Asia and the Pacific - with a foreword by Dr R.K. Pachauri, Chairman of the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - says that without immediate action, global warming is set to reverse decades of social and economic progress across Asia, home to over 60 per cent of the world’s population.

The report is published in the wake of evidence that the UK is reneging on targets for renewable energy set to tackle climate change.

Up in Smoke? Asia and the Pacific — launched today, Monday 19 November — is the most extensive and concluding chapter of a unique, four-year long exercise by the Up in Smoke coalition, an alliance of the UK's major environment and development groups.

Four years ago, the coaltition set out to assess the impacts of climate change on efforts toward poverty reduction around the world from the point of view of practical, community-based organisations engaged in designing responses to a changing environment.

This, the latest and most comprehensive report from communities around the world on the front line of climate change catalogues the threat climate change poses to human development, and the growing consequences of inaction on the issue.

It shows how, across Asia, people and communities are already acting to reduce the worst impacts of climate change. But the report says, there is not a moment to lose. Unless a decisive international agreement is reached, and soon, the lives of those living on the front line of climate change will go up in smoke.

As world leaders prepare for the next UN talks to determine the international response to climate change, in Bali at the beginning of December, Up in Smoke: Asia and the Pacific, shows how the human drama of climate change will largely be played out in Asia, where almost two thirds of the world’s population live, effectively on the front line of climate change.

The report highlights, for example, that:

* In the summer of 2007, British aid agencies, including those in the Up in Smoke alliance, had to raise funds from the UK public to go towards assisting up to 28 million people affected by flooding in South Asia. Extreme weather events like this are likely to become more frequent.

* Over half of the population of Asia live near the coast, making them directly vulnerable to sea-level rise driven by global warming.

* Asia is home to 87 per cent of the world’s known 400 million small farms - all especially vulnerable to climate change as they rely on regular and reliable rainfall.

* Drought in north China has increased, ruining the livelihoods of the region’s farmers. And, around 8 out of 10 glaciers in western China are reportedly in retreat due to climate change.

* The latest global scientific consensus indicates that all of Asia is set to warm during this century, and that this will be accompanied by less predictable and more extreme patterns of rainfall. Tropical cyclones are projected to increase in magnitude and frequency across the region, while monsoons, around which farming systems are designed, are expected to become more unpredictable in their strength and time of onset.

* The expansion of biofuel crops linked to deforestation could, instead of being a climate friendly alternative to fossil fuels, actually worsen global warming and harm local livelihoods and the environment.

* Communities living on small island states like Vanuatu, Kiribati and Tuvalu, scattered across thousands of square kilometres of ocean in the Pacific, among the least responsible globally for climate change, have already fallen victim to the impacts of climate change. Entire nations are now at risk.

Up in Smoke: Asia and the Pacific, presents the results of an unprecedented consultation by members of the coalition among grass roots groups across Asia and the Pacific and including within China - presenting a unique body of evidence direct from the front line of climate change, and an urgent call to action from global leaders.

As officials in the UK continue to work behind the scenes to evade the UK governments commitments to renewable energy, the report catalogues the impact that climate change is already having on some of the worlds most vulnerable communities - just last month, a reported 5 million people were affected when a typhoon struck the south- east coast of China.

The report also presents new evidence that the 'silver bullet' of biofuels could turn into a rush for 'fools gold' across Asia as huge social and environmental costs outweigh the benefits, substantiating concerns already raised by aid and environment groups, and scientists.

* Indonesia has some six million hectares of land under oil palm and the Government is actively encouraging further expansion. As a result of deforestation, some of which is for palm oil plantations, Indonesia is the third-largest global emitter of carbon dioxide, after the USA and China.

* Deforestation is already the second-largest contributor to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Deforestation to make way for large-scale mono-cropping obliterates the 'green credentials' of biofuels by actually increasing the amount of emissions rather than reducing them.

* The economic attraction of biofuels is also leading to conflict between crops grown for food and those grown for fuel. Increasingly, the result is expected to be both greater competition for land and higher food prices.

Pledging once again to play their part in trying to halt dangerous climate change and to help bring about a global solution that is fair and rooted in human equality, amongst a range of recommendations detailed in the report, the coalition calls on the international community to urgently:

* Cut greenhouse gas emissions. Rich countries, both historically and today, are disproportionately responsible for the emissions that have caused and still fuel climate change. As such, they need to meet and exceed their targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions set under the Kyoto Protocol. Starting now with deep annual cuts, commitments should be introduced progressively in a way that prevents a dangerous accumulation of greenhouse gases and puts industrialised countries on track to reach cuts of at least 80 per cent by 2050.

* Halt forest clearance to contain biofuel expansion. Conduct an urgent assessment of carbon benefits from different fuels as well as assessing their impacts on biodiversity especially in intact forests, carbon release from peatlands, as well as impacts on the food security and traditional livelihoods of local populations.

* Draw up coordinated plans, from local to international levels, for relocating threatened communities with appropriate political, legal and financial resources. New problems are emerging. For example, as some nations lose land, a way to deal with threats to Exclusive Economic Zones, and appropriate compensation funding, need to be developed. Resources, too, will need to target the appropriate level of government with whom the responsibility to care for environmental refugees will fall.

There is growing consensus about the current human and environmental challenges facing Asia, and what is needed to tackle them. There is already enough knowledge and understanding to know what the main causes of climate change are, how to reduce future climate change, and how to begin to adapt.

Alongside new evidence of the devastating impact that climate change is already having on communities across Asia, Up in Smoke Asia and the Pacific, shows positive measures that are already being taken - by governments, by civil society and by local people - to reduce the causes of climate change and to overcome its effects.

It shows examples of emissions reduction; alternative water and energy supply systems; preservation of strategic ecosystems and protected areas; increasing capacity, awareness and skills for risk and disaster management; and the employment of effective regulatory and policy instruments. The challenge is clear and many of the solutions are known: the point is, to act.

Accompanying quotations from the chair of the IPCC and other international experts are included below