Photo credit: Mrhayata (Flickr)

Climate Change threatens Asia’s Booming Cities

By James Salisi

While global economic power is projected to shift to Asia in the next 35 years its megacities face the risk of climate change. Bangkok, Dhaka, Guan­gzhou, Ho Chi Minh City, Kolkata, Manila, Mumbai, Shanghai, and Yangon are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB). These cities are located in low-lying areas close to rivers or seas that make them vulnerable to flooding and rising sea levels. They also have large population sizes, which could be both a boon to the economy as it means an expanded consumer base and a bane to social services as they struggle to cope with the problems of overcrowding.

Cities in Asia and the Pacific generate an estimated 80% of gross domestic product of their countries making them engines of growth and development. Approximately 1.2 billion Asians will move to cities in the next 35 years. It is the same period that emerging Asian economies are projected to take over the global economy as their industries mature and markets expand according to a report by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, a professional services firm that analyze megatrends in the global economy.

Crowded cities face difficulties in managing social services such as housing, healthcare, education as well as transportation and public spaces. If they do not cope well with these demands there will be a rise in problems such as pollution, gridlock traffic, poor quality of life, and declining health. The poorest communities in these cities are the most vulnerable since they live in the “least safe neighborhoods in low-lying areas on coasts or riverbanks” and are often not reached by social services. The number of slum dwellers could expand to 1 billion by 2050 from 522.6 million in 2012 in Asia alone if nothing is done. The effects of these problems could stifle the ability of these cities and their countries to fulfill their economic potential.

In order to mitigate the risks and to ensure that economic potential of these Asian cities are fulfilled, the ADB has called for “climate proofing”, which is aimed at making projects they support assessed for climate risk and supporting projects that cut urban carbon emissions. They have also called for the need “to ensure that cities are inclusive economic powerhouses while mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.”

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