Introduction : Asia

The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions, climate change will only exacerbate these challenges.

Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

Regional hotspots:

South Asia:

  • Rising sea levels are affecting the coastlines of South and Southeast Asia. The growing megacities situated mostly along the coasts, such as Mumbai, Dhaka and Calcutta are located only a few meters above sea level and thus imperiled by its continuous rising. The very existence of the islands of the Maldives is threatened.
  • Water scarcity may highten the ongoing tensions between Pakistan and India in the sensitive Kashmir region despite the Indus Water Agreement, which has been in place since 1960. The Indus is the only river system in Pakistan that provides the country with water, while more than 92 per-cent of the land is arid or semi-arid.
  • Rapid glacier melting in the Greater Himalaya and monsoonal shifts increase flooding in the short term but decrease water availability in the long term.

East and Southeast Asia:

  • Competing claims over the South China Sea and its energy resources and fish reserves have resulted in tensions between China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and the U.S.
  • The booming Chinese economy takes its toll on the country’s resources. Industrial air and water pollution exceed acceptable levels in many of the country’s megacities; energy generation, based mainly on coal adds to the problem.
  • In Indonesia, large-scale logging and other land-use changes affect biodiversity and livelihoods, often leading to conflict.

Central Asia and Russia:

  • Regions in Central Asia are forecast to experience rises in temperature accompanied by droughts resulting in soil degradation and desertification. As glaciers shrink, mudslides and flooding increase and pose a serious threat to most regions in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
  • 80 per cent of the Afghan population is dependent on herding and farming. Thus, the welfare of the environment is vastly critical for the economic and political stability of the state, especially with the imminent departure of international armed forces in 2014. At the same time, institutional fragility compromises Afghanistan’s adaptive capacity in the face of natural disasters, jeopardizing the livelihoods of many people.
  • In Mongolia, large mineral and rare-earth reserves offer an opportunity for economic development, but also raise questions about equitable benefit sharing and stakeholder inclusion.

Climate change risks:

  • Rising sea levels in densely populated coastal areas force resettlement of indigenous populations. High levels of migration have already led to social tensions and violence between Indian locals and immigrants from Bangladesh (WGBU 2008).
  • Intensified droughts combined with heavy rainfall decrease the agricultural capacity of cultivated land, which has a direct impact on food production and food security. Additionally, extreme weather events, such as El Niño, have increased in strength and frequency.
  • Russia is likely to benefit from increases in agricultural production as permafrost melts and a warmer climate creates more favorable conditions. The melting Arctic will improve access to seabed fossil fuel resources and extend or open up new shipping routes.

Socio- economic and socio-political challenges:

The diversity in culture, political systems and economic strength is immense in this largest and most populous continent. There are examples of region-wide political and social tensions, poverty, weak governance structures and corruption. In addition, the enormous task of providing roughly four billion people with food, water and secure living conditions is one of the key challenges that Asian governments must face.  Intra-state conflicts, civil wars and weak democratic norms and institutions in some states constitute challenges that are further aggravated by the impacts of global climate change. With regard to the imminent water scarcity in certain regions, improving the region’s extremely poor water and ecosystem management practices is another key challenge that has to be addressed.

Regional Institutions:

  • Regional institutions that offer a valuable starting point in dealing with environmental problems are, among others, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Cooperation (BIMSTEC).
  • There are various specialized institutions and initiatives such as the South Asia Water Initiative, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development as well as the Regional Integrated Multi-hazard Early Warning System programme.
  • Different projects, for example ‘peace parks’, are envisioned in order to stabilize regions such as the Siachen Glacier or the transboundary wildlife and wetlands protection areas that link Afghanistan with its neighbours Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Iran.


Further Reading:

Bundesministerium für Wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit (BMZ) 2012: Wirtschaftswachstum fördern- Armut bekämpfen.

Solomon et al 2007: Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The Physical Science Basis. UK, USA: IPCC.

Parry et al 2007: Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. UK, USA: IPCC.

Voss, S. 2006: A Risk Index for Megacities. Munich Re Group.

United Nations 2012: From Transition to Transformation. New York, Geneva: UN.

European Commission (2012): Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, Aid in Action.

Wyes, H.-W. & Lewandowski, L. 2012: Narrowing the Gaps through Regional Cooperation Institutions and Governance Systems. Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI).