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ASIA: Mounting Costs of Climate Change Raise Fears of Conflict

Ron Corben

BANGKOK, Oct 1 2009 (IPS) - The rising challenge of climate change has raised fears of growing conflicts as the impact of more extreme weather triggers food water scarcities across the Asia region.

The concerns have added to a growing sense of urgency in the ongoing 12- day climate change talks in Bangkok, the latest in a series of negotiations that will lead to the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit in December, where a comprehensive treaty is expected to be adopted, which will replace the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012.

Mark Rosegrant, a director with the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, said the combination of rising food prices, water scarcity and access to land are expected to add to social pressures.

Rosegrant raised the spectre of potential instability. "It’s going to be neighbours against each other," he said.

As the environment deteriorates, there could be "very significant social deterioration and the loosening of the social bonds as well," he added.

The Asia Development Bank (AsDB), in a series of new reports on climate, energy and migration released Wednesday, said food security is now threatened by falling crop yields caused by floods, droughts, erratic rainfall and other climate change impacts.

It warned that food prices could increase sharply, with staples such as rice rising by more than 30 percent, maize by over 50 percent, and wheat by as much as 100 percent over the next four decades, with South Asia expected to be the hardest hit by drought.

The AsDB said agriculture is especially vulnerable to climatic change, with over 2.2 billion people in Asia relying on agriculture for their livelihoods.

"Climate change is threatening food production systems and therefore the livelihoods and food security of billions of people who depend on agriculture in the Asia and Pacific region," the report said.

The report added that agricultural activities release significant amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, with Asia and the Pacific accounting for 37 percent of the world’s total emissions from agricultural production. China alone makes up more than 18 percent of the total.

The impact of rising temperatures on Asia will fall disproportionately on the poor, with rural women from developing countries among the most affected groups due to their dependence on subsistence crops.

At least of half of Asia's total population lives below 2 U.S. dollars a day. The AsDB said this sector of the population tends to depend on rain-fed agriculture and live in settlements that are highly exposed to climate change.

In its energy report, the AsDB said access to affordable energy is also under increasing threat, citing demand-supply gaps, the high reliance on traditional biomass fuels and the high-energy intensity of the region’s economies.

The threats to Asia's agriculture and energy are expected to result in significant levels of migration within national boundaries. But there are also several vulnerable areas, especially along highly populated coastal zones, that are likely to be affected by sea level increases, water stress, flooding and cyclones.

Leena Srivastava, executive director of the Energy and Resources Institute, said the major challenge lies in ensuring energy sources are affordable "for the millions of people who do not have access to energy today". The New Delhi-based centre promotes sustainable development.

Alternative sources of energy require the use of affordable technologies. Srivastava said it is necessary to ensure that versions of such technologies are within reach of the poor.

"That is going to contribute not only to mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, because you are helping move to cleaner energy forms, but also … (to) adaptation, because it creates a resilience … contributes to development," she told IPS. She admitted, however, that "providing energy access is going to be one key problem."

The AsDB said the region’s "vast renewable energy potential" could help it respond to the threat of climate change "but only if policy and finance measures quickly scale-up proven technologies for the poor, including small hydro and solar power."

But the problem, said Srivastava, lies more with politics than with technology and technical achievements. Financing is also a challenge, she added.

Accodring to the World Bank report the developing countries face an annual bill of 100 U.S. dollars billion a year for the cost of adaptation to climate change over the period 2010 to 2050. The United Nations, on the other hand, has estimated that the world needs to spend an additional 36 billion to 135 billion U.S. dollars each year by 2030 to address the wider impacts of climate change.

The reality, as set out by the International Panel on Climate Change, is that "no matter what we do, we are committed to a certain level of climate change."

"There is a certain degree of vulnerability that has already been created in a large number of countries that needs to be addressed," said Srivastava.

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