By Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CDKN Regional Director, Asia

The challenges in Asia

Geographically, Asia is a hugely diverse continent. It has the highest and lowest points on the Earth’s surface, the greatest amount of coastline of any continent, and is subject to the world’s widest climatic extremes in terms of temperatures and rainfall.

Consequently, Asia suffers diverse, negative climate change impacts. These are already being witnessed, for example in the increasing number of extreme weather events: cyclones, hurricanes and severe dust storms; heatwaves and prolonged dry spells; changing monsoon patterns, periods of intense rainfall and floods; and avalanches and receding glaciers. These events are predicted to become even more frequent and extreme in the future, threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the continent.

These problems are exacerbated by the fact that many of the continent’s large and growing populations live in coastal and low-lying areas which are being severely affected by rising sea levels. The majority of the estimated 680 million rural poor in the Asia-Pacific region are subsistence farmers who are impacted by disruptions to monsoon seasons and rainfall.

Asia’s climate story does not end there. Asian countries are extremely diverse in terms of socioeconomic development, and the continent has some of the poorest, as well as some of the largest and fastest-growing economies in the world, whose growth rates translate into increasing carbon footprints in many places. These differing levels of development also translate into differing levels of commitment to controlling greenhouse gas emissions, with smaller less polluting countries more inclined towards adaptation activities.

The critical issue – dilemma, even – is how best to continue supporting the region’s priority of economic growth and poverty reduction while delivering adaptation and mitigation outcomes. CDKN is currently supporting Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal and Pakistan; and all are identifying their own specific climate challenges while looking to take advantage of adaptation and mitigation opportunities.

Nepal is a good of example of a country at risk from climate change whose primary focus is on adaptation activities. It has a small economy and a large rural population, many of whom are subsistence farmers struggling with an uneven and unpredictable water supply. Geographically, it is extremely vulnerable to changing weather patterns and receding glaciers. To adapt to climate change, Nepal is scaling up ‘climate-smart’ agriculture techniques, improving the resilience of irrigation systems, and assessing the climate impacts on the hydroelectricity sector to reduce the vulnerability of the people most affected.

By contrast, Indonesia is a large nation with an economy geared towards rapid growth, which has accelerated emission levels. National policies in Indonesia are geared towards low-carbon growth, paving the way for more mitigation actions in the country. These will require financing and technologies to achieve development benefits (known as ‘co-benefits’) for the varied population, including the most vulnerable.  Examples of mitigation projects in Indonesia include Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) for small- and medium-scale renewable energy, and the establishment of national institutions to access climate finance for mitigation.

Bangladesh, India and Pakistan are highly vulnerable to climate-induced disasters such as floods, which particularly affect those living below the poverty line. They are therefore working hard on adaptation as well as mitigation measures. Each country has presented a robust Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) in advance of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, 2015. These have been translated into separate, yet similar, projects in each country that aim to support their respective governments by initiating research and analysis to help them achieve mitigation goals. These include the preparation of NAMAs, research on low-carbon scenarios in Pakistan, and analysis on how to most effectively access climate finance.

Future challenges and key lessons

Under a ‘business as usual’ scenario, countries face a real risk of ‘locking’ themselves into a high-carbon economic growth trajectory, which will lead to further global warming. However, integrating climate action and development governance is a growing trend in Asia. It is also an important political issue, defining how climate and development policies are created and implemented. The role local governments play, both in the design and delivery of climate compatible development, is crucial. It is important for key stakeholders in Asia to understand how climate change can be mainstreamed at local and subnational government levels, and the specific institutional, economic and political factors that facilitate policy development and delivery.

The importance of local governments in integrating these two strands effectively – in ways that also manage risks – cannot be stressed enough. This necessitates making use of the appropriate entry points such as accessing climate funds in order to deliver the level of ambition on climate change required, and scaling up successful models of local governance. It is also important to identify opportunities to transfer lesson learning between countries facing similar issues, such as transferring the model of ‘heat action plans’ from Ahmedabad in India to Pakistan.

Climate change: addressing heat-health vulnerability in rapidly urbanising regions of Western India
Climate change: addressing heat-health vulnerability in rapidly urbanising regions of Western India

In many ways, the climate battle in Asia will be won or lost in its cities. For example, developing a NAMA to help mainstream renewable energy in the city of Sialkot in Pakistan is helping to encourage partnerships between the private sector and local government, and research on accessing climate finance through city level plans in India and Indonesia will help make cities more sustainable.

OPINION: An emblematic city looks to renewable energy in Sialkot, Pakistan
OPINION: An emblematic city looks to renewable energy in Sialkot, Pakistan
Finding the Finance: Climate compatible development in Asian cities

CDKN’s focus areas in Asia

  • Climate-smart agriculture and resilience
  • Delivering Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)
  • Insurance for climate risks, losses and damage
  • Vulnerability assessments and disaster-mitigation plans, at state and city levels
  • Strengthening institutions to access global climate funds for climate compatible development
  • Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs)
Explore CDKN’s work in Asia further
Explore CDKN’s work in Asia further