William Pesek: Why climate change is a problem emerging markets cannot ignore

Last Updated: Sat, Dec 08, 2012 18:50 hrs

pNew York&rsquos brush with developing-nation status is an even bigger warning for Asia than it is for the US The city could be excused for wondering if it had suddenly been transported to Bangladesh in October The deadly floods and crippling power outages following Hurricane Sandy made for more than graphic television They made a mockery of the climate-change deniers Just ask residents of lower Manhattan as they referred to neighbourhoods such as pricey Tribeca as &ldquoLittle North Korea&rdquoppThe Asia reference is fitting because that region is where the real wake-up call should beppAsia&rsquos rising importance is well known Asia-Pacific nations generated roughly 25 per cent of the world&rsquos gross domestic product between 1980 and 2009 and that share is rising fast Less well known is that it endured almost 40 per cent of the world&rsquos losses from natural disasters during that period Violent weather is sure to increase compromising Asias economic outlookppAsia-Pacific residents are four times more likely to be victims of natural disasters than Africans and 25 times more likely than North Americans according to a new Asian Development Bank report Asia is home to most of the megacities facing extreme vulnerability to climate change The increasing frequency and severity of disasters will reduce growth and set back anti-poverty effortsppWe need to stop thinking that such events just come and go &mdash that stuff happens Asia must embrace the idea that natural phenomena are a rising threat to development Steps must be taken to brace for their impact and reduce their incidence Both challenges require far more energy planning and resources than Asian leaders have mustered to dateppThe first is complicated by demography The largest urbanisation history has ever known is unfolding chaotically and faster than cities can keep up with Asia&rsquos mix of rising ocean levels surging populations poor urban planning and deforestation dwarfs New York&rsquos challengesppSwarms of people are fleeing environmentally stable but impoverished rural areas for coastal cities that lie in harms way In the 1980s roughly 24 million people in the region were directly at risk from natural disasters today it&rsquos 152 million and increasing That means Vietnam Bangladesh the Philippines Thailand Indonesia China India Pakistan and Cambodia &mdash all of which are on ADB&rsquos list of the 14 most vulnerable developing nations &mdash need to spend untold billions of dollars making infrastructure less susceptible to disasterppChina India Indonesia and Thailand are among Asias biggest and most-watched economies How vibrant will they be if their top cities are constantly being swamped How alluring will Ho Chi Minh City Karachi or Manila markets be as Mother Nature encroaches Longer-term add Shanghai and Tokyo to the vulnerable list as water levels riseppComplacency complicates the second challenge The World Bank foresees &ldquocataclysmic changes&rdquo caused by extreme heat waves ask Australia rising seas check the Maldives and depleted food stocks query the Philippines as the climate heads toward warming of 4 degrees Celsius this centuryppYet all the latest round of United Nations climate talks this time in Doha has managed to achieve is raising the carbon footprint of government ministers and activists jetting in hiring motorcades dining at swanky eateries and staying at five-star hotels All the while evidence mounts that this generation&rsquos environmental legacy will be one of gross negligenceppIt&rsquos hard to persuade poorer nations to take the lead in reducing emissions Not with the US shirking its responsibilities and the rising carbon emissions of Japan home of the Kyoto Protocol Going green Asia says is too costly for nations struggling with poverty The region should be free to generate greenhouse gasses the way developed nations did when they were industrialising in the 19th and 20th centuriesppOur planet can&rsquot handle more than 7 billion people polluting that way so Asia must change its thinking Economies that go green fastest will be the most prosperous 20 years from now Nations with the fewest energy imports lowest subsidies most innovative renewable-energy sources and foreign policies that aren&rsquot beholden to oil suppliers will be the most attractive and have the highest credit ratingsppAsia should announce the energy equivalent of the Manhattan Project With developed economies in tatters a pledge by rich nations to provide 100 billion in annual global-warming aid by 2020 looks unrealistic Asia should take matters into its own hands and deploy its 66 trillion of currency reserves for research and development If an institution is needed create one Call it the Asian Green Growth Project and empower it to find alternatives to the coal and other fossil fuels blackening the skies and imperiling the futureppSure that&rsquos easier said than done But Asia&rsquos biggest challenges include continuing growth without choking on it finding ample water supplies and feeding swelling populations Status-quo policies won&rsquot get the region where it needs to be 20 years from now Nor will squabbling with North America and Europe which isn&rsquot on the front lines the way Asia is Only a big coordinated and creatively financed effort will do thatppHurricane Sandy showed New Yorkers they are vulnerable and must begin planning for a more chaotic future Asians don&rsquot have that luxury They are already living in ithr pp alignrightemThe writer is a Bloomberg View columnist These views are his own emp

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