Climate Change 2001:
Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
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5.2.2. Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Climate change would exacerbate current threats to biodiversity resulting from land-use/cover change and population pressure in Asia (medium confidence). Risks to Asia's rich array of living species are climbing. As many as 1,250 of 15,000 higher plant species are threatened in India. Similar trends are evident in China, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand. Many species and a large population of many other species in Asia are likely to be exterminated as a result of the synergistic effects of climate change and habitat fragmentation. In desert ecosystems, increased frequency of droughts may result in a decline in local forage around oases, causing mass mortality among local fauna and threatening their existence. With a 1-m rise in sea level, the Sundarbans (the largest mangrove ecosystems) of Bangladesh will completely disappear. [11.2.1,]

Permafrost degradation resulting from global warming would increase the vulnerability of many climate-dependent sectors affecting the economy in boreal Asia (medium confidence). Pronounced warming in high latitudes of the northern hemisphere could lead to thinning or disappearance of permafrost in locations where it now exists. Large-scale shrinkage of the permafrost region in boreal Asia is likely. Poleward movement of the southern boundary of the sporadic zone also is likely in Mongolia and northeast China. The boundary between continuous and discontinuous (intermittent or seasonal) permafrost areas on the Tibetan Plateau is likely to shift toward the center of the plateau along the eastern and western margins. []

The frequency of forest fires is expected to increase in boreal Asia (medium confidence). Warmer surface air temperatures, particularly during summer, may create favorable conditions for thunderstorms and associated lightening, which could trigger forest fires in boreal forests more often. Forest fire is expected to occur more frequently in northern parts of boreal Asia as a result of global warming. []

5.2.3. Water Resources

Freshwater availability is expected to be highly vulnerable to anticipated climate change (high confidence). Surface runoff increases during winter and summer periods would be pronounced in boreal Asia (medium confidence). Countries in which water use is more than 20% of total potential water resources available are expected to experience severe water stress during drought periods. Surface runoff is expected to decrease drastically in arid and semi-arid Asia under projected climate change scenarios. Climate change is likely to change streamflow volume, as well as the temporal distribution of streamflows throughout the year. With a 2°C increase in air temperature accompanied by a 5-10% decline in precipitation during summer, surface runoff in Kazakhstan would be substantially reduced, causing serious implications for agriculture and livestocks. Water would be a scarce commodity in many south and southeast Asian countries, particularly where reservoir facilities to store water for irrigation are minimal. Growing populations and concentration of populations in urban areas will exert increasing pressures on water availability and water quality. []

5.2.4. Extreme Weather Events

Developing countries of temperate and tropical Asia already are quite vulnerable to extreme climate events such as typhoons/cyclones, droughts, and floods. Climate change and variability would exacerbate these vulnerabilities (high confidence). Extreme weather events are known to cause adverse effects in widely separated areas of Asia. There is some evidence of increases in the intensity or frequency of some of these extreme events on regional scales throughout the 20th century. [,, 11.4.1]

Increased precipitation intensity, particularly during the summer monsoon, could increase flood-prone areas in temperate and tropical Asia. There is potential for drier conditions in arid and semi-arid Asia during summer, which could lead to more severe droughts (medium confidence). Many countries in temperate and tropical Asia have experienced severe droughts and floods frequently in the 20th century. Flash floods are likely to become more frequent in many regions of temperate and tropical Asia in the future. A decrease in return period for extreme precipitation events and the possibility of more frequent floods in parts of India, Nepal, and Bangladesh is projected. [,,, 11.4.1]

Conversion of forestland to cropland and pasture already is a prime force driving forest loss in tropical and temperate Asian countries. With more frequent floods and droughts, these actions will have far-reaching implications for the environment (e.g., soil erosion, loss of soil fertility, loss of genetic variability in crops, and depletion of water resources). []

Tropical cyclones and storm surges continue to take a heavy toll on life and property in India and Bangladesh. An increase in the intensity of cyclones combined with sea-level rise would result in more loss of life and property in low-lying coastal areas in cyclone-prone countries of Asia (medium confidence). The expected increase in the frequency and intensity of climatic extremes will have significant potential effects on crop growth and agricultural production, as well as major economic and environmental implications (e.g., tourism, transportation). [,, 11.3]

A wide range of precautionary measures at regional and national levels, including awareness and acceptance of risk factors among regional communities, is warranted to avert or reduce the impacts of disasters associated with more extreme weather events on economic and social structures of countries in temperate and tropical Asia. [11.3.2]

5.2.5. Deltas and Coastal Zones

The large deltas and low-lying coastal areas of Asia would be inundated by sea-level rise (high confidence). Climate-related stresses in coastal areas include loss and salinization of agricultural land as a result of change in sea level and changing frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones. Estimates of potential land loss resulting from sea-level rise and risk to population displacement provided in Table TS-8 demonstrate the scale of the issue for major low-lying regions of coastal Asia. Currently, coastal erosion of muddy coastlines in Asia is not a result of sea-level rise; it is triggered largely by annual river-borne suspended sediments transported into the ocean by human activities and delta evolution. These actions could exacerbate the impacts of climate change in coastal regions of Asia. []

Table TS-8: Potential land loss and population exposed in Asian countries for selected magnitudes of sea-level rise, assuming no adaptation.
Sea-Level Rise
Potential Land Loss
Population Exposed
Bangladesh 45 15,668 10.9 5.5 5.0
  100 29,846 20.7 14.8 13.5
India 100 5,763 0.4 7.1 0.8
Indonesia 60 34,000 1.9 2.0 1.1
Japan 50 1,412 0.4 2.9 2.3
Malaysia 100 7,000 2.1 >0.05 >0.3
Pakistan 20 1,700 0.2 n.a. n.a.
Vietnam 100 40,000 12.1 17.1 23.1

5.2.6. Human Health

Warmer and wetter conditions would increase the potential for higher incidence of heat-related and infectious diseases in tropical and temperate Asia (medium confidence). The rise in surface air temperature and changes in precipitation in Asia will have adverse effects on human health. Although warming would result in a reduction in wintertime deaths in temperate countries, there could be greater frequency and duration of heat stress, especially in megalopolises during summer. Global warming also will increase the incidence of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases in parts of arid and semi-arid Asia and temperate and tropical Asia. Changes in environmental temperature and precipitation could expand vector-borne diseases into temperate and arid Asia. The spread of vector-borne diseases into more northern latitudes may pose a serious threat to human health. Warmer SSTs along Asian coastlines would support higher phytoplankton blooms. These blooms are habitats for infectious bacterial diseases. Waterborne diseases— including cholera and the suite of diarrheal diseases caused by organisms such as giardia, salmonella, and cryptosporidium—could become more common in many countries of south Asia in warmer climate. [,,]

5.2.7. Adaptive Capacity

Adaptation to climate change in Asian countries depends on the affordability of adaptive measures, access to technology, and biophysical constraints such as land and water resource availability, soil characteristics, genetic diversity for crop breeding (e.g., crucial development of heat-resistant rice cultivars), and topography. Most developing countries of Asia are faced with increasing population, spread of urbanization, lack of adequate water resources, and environmental pollution, which hinder socioeconomic activities. These countries will have to individually and collectively evaluate the tradeoffs between climate change actions and nearer term needs (such as hunger, air and water pollution, energy demand). Coping strategies would have to be developed for three crucial sectors: land resources, water resources, and food productivity. Adaptation measures that are designed to anticipate the potential effects of climate change can help offset many of the negative effects. [11.3.1]

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