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Asian Cities: The vulnerability factor

Dec 11, 2009

World Wide Fund’s report, Mega-Stress for Mega-Cities: A Climate Vulnerability Ranking of Major Coastal Cities in Asia , provides an overview of the climate related risks that 11 most vulnerable Asian cities of the world face. Apart from generating awareness about the impacts, the study also provides possible solutions that demand immediate action.

Mega-Stress for Mega-Cities: A Climate Vulnerability Ranking of Major Coastal Cities in Asia

Publisher: World Wide Fund, 2009

Asia is arguably among the regions of the world most vulnerable to climate change. Climate change and climatic variability have and will continue to impact all sectors, from national and economic security to human health, food production, infrastructure, water availability and ecosystems.

The evidence of climate change in Asia is widespread: overall temperatures have risen from 1°C to 3°C over the last 100 years, precipitation patterns have changed, the number of extreme weather events is increasing, and sea levels are rising.

Since, many of the largest cities in Asia are located on the coast and within major river deltas, they are even more susceptible to the impacts of climate change.

In response, this report highlights the vulnerability of some of those cities – with the goal of increasing regional awareness of the impacts of climate change, providing a starting point for further research and policy discussions, and triggering action to protect people and nature in and around Asia’s mega cities from mega-stress in the future.

The report has explained how coastal populations are at high risk of sea-level rise and associated impacts, including increased flooding and salt water intrusion.

In addition to rising sea levels, much of Asia also suffers from considerable subsidence (sinking of the land) due to heavy extraction of groundwater supplies, tectonic activity, and natural ground movement.

Coastal erosion, exacerbated by sea-level rise, also threatens vulnerable lands including deltas. In fact, many of Asia’s largest cities, like the mega-cities analysed in this report, were built on such deltas and are consequently some of the most at risk to the impacts of climate change.

Cities cover less than 1% of the planet’s surface, and are home to around 50% of the world’s population, and many of them see a rapid growth trend. Taken together, all cities and urban areas worldwide use 75% of the world’s energy and are responsible for 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The report warns that without major breakthroughs on energy efficiency and emission reductions in cities, we will fail to avoid dangerous climate change in urban as well as rural areas.

This report focuses on climate variability and adaptive capacity of cities. It is divided up into four sections: context, methodology, scorecards, and policy, while we highlight the major climate change effects impacting 11 key Asian cities.

All examined cities will be significantly impacted by climate change, but when examining the selected impacts (tropical storms, sea-level rise and flooding and drought), the report found that some of the cities may experience more frequent or more intense events than others.

The report has endeavored to measure the sensitivity of these cities. The relative sensitivity of the 11 selected cities to climate change impacts is based on population, gross domestic product (GDP), and the relative importance of that city to the national economy.

Moreover the report has ascertained the adaptive capacity of the 11 cities by examining the overall willingness of the city to implement adaptation strategies.

An attempt, to identify some of the most feasible and economical near-term adaptation options for these areas, has been made. Some constructive policy recommendations have been suggested.

It is undeniable, humans have caused climate change and the irreversible impacts resulting from it, and the window of opportunity to limit further damage is quickly closing.

As outlined in this report, climate change impacts in Asia are real and happening now. The vulnerability of this region is relatively high and millions of people are being affected.

The report has elucidated a number of no-regret (win-win) adaptation options that can be implemented immediately and that will help protect people, assets, and natural ecosystems.

It is also a catalyst for societal discussion about the region’s vulnerability, the different types of allowable risk, and what can be done to improve the situation.

This will hopefully spark not only discussion about this region, but also in and about other vulnerable regions around the world, as well as about the historical inequality between the biggest polluters and the countries that have contributed the least to climate change but suffer most.

The report urges that fast action is of the essence as the world has no time left to wait.

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