Millions of vulnerable people to bear the brunt of climate crisis

Global warming is set to reverse decades of social and economic progress across the Asia-Pacific, home to more than four billion people or 60 per cent of the world’s population, according to a new multi-agency report published today called Up in Smoke: Asia and the Pacific.

20 November, 2007

Millions of vulnerable people in Asia to bear the brunt of climate crisis, says new report

Global warming is set to reverse decades of social and economic progress across the Asia-Pacific, home to more than four billion people or 60 per cent of the world’s population, according to a new multi-agency report published today called Up in Smoke: Asia and the Pacific .

The report, compiled by more than 35 development and environmental groups including Oxfam and Friends of the Earth, says there is growing consensus about the huge challenges facing the Asia Pacific region. However it notes “reason to hope” that there is now enough knowledge about the causes of climate change, how the world must tackle it, and how people in the region must continue to adapt to it. Immediate action is vital, it says.

As world leaders prepare for important UN talks in Bali next month to determine an international response to climate change, the report shows:

  • Science consensus that all of Asia-Pacific will warm during this century with less predictable rainfall and monsoons – around which farming systems are designed – and more extreme tropical cyclones;

  • More than half the population of Asia live near the coast and are directly vulnerable to rises in sea-level;

  • Asia is home to 87 per cent of the world’s known 400 million small farms which are all especially vulnerable to climate change because the rely on regular and reliable rainfall;

  • An increase of just 1°C in night-time temperatures during the growing season will reduce Asian rice yields by 10 per cent, while wheat production could fall by 32 per cent by 2050;

  • People from small island states like Vanuatu, Kiribati and Tuvalu in the Pacific have already fallen victim to sea-level rises and entire nations are at risk;

  • In northern China massive droughts have resulted in severe agricultural losses. If no action is taken, by the end of this century China could suffer 37 per cent loss in its staple crops of wheat, rice and corn.

“The effect that climate change will have on poor countries is both preventable and predictable. As a leader in the region, Australia must assist its less fortunate neighbours in adapting to climate change. This is vital for the future of our region’s security and stability”, said Charlotte Sterrett of Oxfam Australia, one of the contributors to the report.

“Climate change is affecting people’s health, access to energy, water supplies and crops – and it is affecting the most vulnerable. To ignore the findings of this report would be a failure of the Australian government”, said Cam Walker of Friends of the Earth.

The report gives detailed analysis on the implications of climate change in to poor people living in Bangladesh, central Asia, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, East Timor, the Lower Mekong and Malaysia, Nepal and Pakistan and the Pacific Islands. It also shows that positive measures are being taken by local governments and people to reduce emissions and cope with climate change now.

Up in Smoke recommends that the international community commit to meaningful and mandatory emissions cuts to ensure that global temperature increases stay below 2°C. “For Australia this means reducing carbon emissions by at least 30% by 2020, and 80% by 2050”, said Mr Walker. Rich countries must honour their commitments to renewable energy as the potential for its use across the Asia-Pacific is vast.

“The international community must also urgently assess the full global costs facing poor countries having to adapt to climate change and give new funds. If Australia is to pay its fair share this amounts to at least $1.5bn per annum, and more if global emissions aren’t cut rapidly enough”, said Ms Sterrett. The report notes that rich-country subsidies to their domestic fossil fuel industry stood at $73 billion per year in the late 1990s. It also says that crisis responses must be better planned, organised and funded and that vulnerable communities must be assisted in coping and preparing for climate-related disasters.

A copy of the report can be found on the Oxfam website www.oxfam.org.au

For an interview with Charlotte Sterrett or Cam Walker please contact Melany Markham on +61 407 515 559 +613 9289 9415