On this World Meteorological Day, WMO and ESCAP unpack the 2023 theme: Weather, Climate and Water across Generations – through a series of three opinion pieces focused on the Asia-Pacific region, each dedicated to answering the questions: What do weather, climate and water mean, how do they interact, and how are they changing? How do the changes in weather, climate and water impact our lives? What do we need to meet the needs of future generations concerning weather, climate and water?
As we learnt in the first post of this series, climate change is resulting in increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events and detrimental changes to the Earth’s water cycle. This post will explore how these changes impact people’s lives around Asia and the Pacific.
The population of the Asia-Pacific region has been growing and is home to around 60 per cent of the world’s population, reaching 4.7 billion as of 2022. The population growth rate has slowed somewhat in recent years, with an average annual growth rate of around 1.1 per cent between 2010 and 2020, compared to 1.4 per cent between 2000 and 2010. The region achieved rapid economic development at an average annual growth rate of 2.7 per cent between 1990-2020, substantially exceeding the global average (1.5 per cent).
Weather, climate, and water in the Asia-Pacific region are complex and vary by location and time due to various factors. Its geographical diversity means that the Asia-Pacific region is vast and encompasses a diverse range of geographies, from the Himalayas to small islands in the Pacific. This geographic diversity means the region covers all climate zones from tropical to high mountains to polar and experiences a wide range of weather and climate patterns, from monsoons in Southeast Asia to tropical cyclones in the Pacific.
With this diversity, the Asia-Pacific region faces a daunting spectrum of natural hazards. The extent of disaster risk can be represented in what is termed the regional riskscape – including intensive and extensive, slow-onset and rapid-onset disaster types.
The region is not only distinguished by its unique hazard characteristics, vulnerabilities and exposure, but also that definite risk hotspots arise have been identified across the region, which are responsible for disproportionally higher disaster-related fatalities.
Asia-Pacific’s Riskscape impact on lives, livelihoods and economies
A person living in Asia and the Pacific is six times more likely to be affected by disaster events than someone living outside the region.
Over the past 53 years (1970-2022) Asia and the Pacific on average has experienced almost ten weather, climate, water, seismic-related disasters each month. This translates to approximately 3,200 lives lost and US$3.8 million in economic damages monthly. In addition to the disaster-related fatalities, of the seven million premature deaths occurring globally as a result of air pollution, more than four million were in Asia and the Pacific.
Disasters, as a percentage of GDP, cause more damage in Asia and the Pacific than in the rest of the world, and this gap has been widening. The high rates of GDP loss are due to the fact that more than 60 per cent of Asia-Pacific workforce rely on sectors highly susceptible to changing weather patterns. For instance, a recent study found that India alone loses labour productivity of more than 100 billion hours per year due to heat exposure – the global sum is 220 billion hours. With additional warming of 1 to 2 degrees; the labour productivity losses would go up to 156 and 230 billion hours respectively in India alone.
Human activity linked to Riskscape changes
The regional Riskscape of weather, climate, and water is also influenced by socio-economic factors such as population growth, urbanization, and poverty. These factors impact water availability, increase vulnerability to extreme weather events, and affect the ability of communities to adapt to climate change impacts. Human activities, impacted by population growth, contribute to the contour of climate change:
Burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, for energy is one of the primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide. These emissions trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. The Asia-Pacific region contributes to over 55 per cent of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which have grown continuously between 2010-2022. The silver lining is that 40 Asia-Pacific countries have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050, 2060 or 2070.
Land-use changes. Human activities such as deforestation, urbanization, and agriculture can alter the Earth's surface, leading to changes in the exchange of energy and water between the surface and the atmosphere. This can have significant impacts on weather and climate patterns. Overall, land degradation has affected about 850 million hectares, or about 28 per cent of land area in Asia and the Pacific. About 60 per cent of the coastal mangroves in the region have been cleared for development, over 40 per cent of coral reefs have disappeared due to human activities, and approximatively 80 per cent of remaining coral reefs are currently at risk of bleaching.
Industrial processes such as cement production and chemical manufacturing, also emit greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide and methane. This form of air pollution is also a significant compounding factor in the poor health of the region, accounting for almost two-thirds of the global premature deaths, accumulating to seven million people per year.
Risk hotspots to be aware of
Changes to weather, climate and water coupled with the socio-economic conditions of populations directly influence the level of impacts that these changes have on our lives and the resilience of communities. As changes continue, we must be aware of how they will further impact the lives of people today and for future generations.
The Asia-Pacific riskscape has been changing, extreme weather events have been increasing and expanding due to changes to climate and the Earth’s water cycle. The impacts of changes to weather, climate and water are transboundary in nature, often covering multiple countries and geographic zones. Flooding and drought events are set to intensify, water scarcity is expected to be further exacerbated and heatwaves are poised to become a major emerging risk in Asia and the Pacific.
The riskscape of weather, climate, and water in the Asia Pacific region reflects the complex interplay of environmental, social, and economic factors. The changing risk hotspots will dramatically impact agriculture, energy production, and human health and well-being. Addressing the challenges posed by climate change, water scarcity, and extreme weather events require a comprehensive, coordinated and science-based approach that considers the diverse range of factors that influence these issues in the region – both now and for future generations.
(The authors would like to acknowledge Mr. Jun YU (WMO Regional Officer) for his contribution to the opinion pieces and for stewarding the cooperation between ESCAP and WMO)