The East Asian
Peace: How Did It
Deep Is It?
Inequality in Asia
in the Asia-Pacific:
The Shifting US-
China Balance of
Power in the
Asia and a Warmer Climate, 2036
By 2036, a much warmer environment has engulfed Asia, bringing major
headaches for governments and community leaders. Despite scientists warning of
the impending climate change 20 years ago, there had been only a slow awakening
to the magnitude and scale of change about to hit both coastal and inland
As predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014,
more extreme weather, flooding, subsidence, storms, drought, fire, dust and sand
storms affected have communities throughout Asia, leading to mass migration,
social unrest and increased poverty. No nation or community escaped the impact of
climate change, which unfairly hit the poor, who are often located on “marginal”
lands and coastal areas.
As the years went by, urban growth escalated throughout Asia and the global
south. The early predictions of science fiction dreamers were realized with mega
cities joining to create never ending urban corridors stretching across nations
stemming from Shanghai and Tokyo to New Delhi and Jakarta.
At the same time, major change was occurring across Asia. Urbanization and
economic development on a grand scale combined to create a rising middle class,
greater citizen engagement, technological change, smart cities and connectivity
like never before imagined.
Above is a brief outline of an imagined future and the impact of global warming on
Asia over the next 20 years. Below I look at the need to plan for climate change over
the coming decades to manage multiple stresses at all levels of government. Are
there pathways that can reduce the risks and impacts of climate change, or do we
really have to learn the hard way?
2015 PARIS AGREEMENT
The landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on global warming saw world leaders commit
to a target of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius, holding the line
at 1.5 degrees Celsius. “The 1.5 degree Celsius limit is a significantly safer defense
line against the worst impacts of a changing climate,” the UN said in a statement
after 195 nations finally agreed in what was a remarkable achievement.
But the hard work has just begun. Implementation will be the test, and many argue
that this is the critical decade, a race against time. The pathways adopted by nations
will determine the severity of the impact on communities. The politics will be
challenging. As leading climate scientist James Hansen has said, “Politicians think
If we imagine an Asian
future under climate
change, the scenario is
bleak — violent weather,
coastal ﬂooding, food
shortages and more.
But this does not have to
happen, argues Barbara
Norman. Concerted efforts
at the urban, rural and
national level can help
create a manageable
future. China and the US
already showed a way
forward by agreeing to
limits on global warming.
Published: Sep 30, 2016
About the author
Barbara Norman is
Foundation Chair, Urban &
Regional Planning, and
Director, Canberra Urban &
Regional Futures, at the
University of Canberra,
Australia. She can be
edu.au or on Twitter:
ProfBarbaraN. See also
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The Future of Global Warming and Its
Impact on Asia
By Barbara Norman
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that if matters look difficult, compromise is a good approach. Unfortunately, nature
and the laws of physics cannot compromise — they are what they are.”
During 2016, leaders across Asia confirmed their agreement with the Paris
commitment, the most recent being the joint statement and ratification by US
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping. As Obama said, “A low-
carbon future is where the world is heading.”
China and the US represent approximately 38 percent of the world’s emissions, and
through this joint statement they provide welcome global leadership on climate
change in a somewhat rare show of unity for the two nations.
Concurrently, at the sub-national level there has been the development of urban
networks for action on climate change. The C40 global city network pioneered by
Mayor of London Ken Livingstone in 2005 and succeeded by New York City Mayor
Michael Bloomberg in 2010-2013 and now Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, provided a
direct connection with the Climate Summit for Local Leaders in Paris and the Paris
City Hall Declaration. The 2016 initiative to combine networks of mayors into a
Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy is very significant, representing
more than 7,000 cities.
At a smaller, local scale, the International Council for Local Environment Initiatives
brings together town councils around the globe. This has enabled continuing
conversations between sub-national and city leaders. The Seoul Communiqué
delivered by Mayor Park Won Soon and adopted on Sept. 2, 2016, by local mayors
provides a tangible link between the Paris Agreement and action on climate change
on the ground in Asian cities. This will directly feed into the largest UN meeting on
cities, Habitat 3, in Quito, Ecuador, in October, on developing the new urban agenda.
Translating global action into local action remains the key to a more sustainable
future. The draft “UN Habitat Quito Declaration on sustainable cities and human
settlements for all,” provides a window into the final statement later this year.
Representing largely developing nations, with many across the Asia-Pacific, the
statement places strong emphasis on mitigation of and adaptation to climate change
and building community resilience. It relies heavily on national and sub-national
governments working together to deliver change. It also relies on partnerships
between government, academia and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to
provide innovative platforms in lieu of formal mechanisms for exchanging
knowledge and practice climate change responses at the local and regional level —
“joining the dots between planning, science and the community.”
CLIMATE CHANGE AND ASIAN URBANIZATION
Made up of a diversity of nations, communities and geographies, Asia will see the
impacts of climate change vary between countries and regions — East, South,
Southeast and the Pacific. Common to all, however, will be sea-level rise,
increasingly intense extreme events and a warming environment. The scale of
impacts will be determined by global action during this decade and beyond and the
strategies that have been put in place to build resilience into urban and rural
The 2014 IPCC report on climate change included a chapter on Asia. The key
projections include coastal flooding, glacial melting, decrease in crop yields, climate
induced disease, heat-related deaths and drought-related water and food scarcity.
Water security will be crucial as communities are affected by water stress caused by
rising temperatures, population increase and growing demands by agriculture; this
could in turn cause nations to try to secure their own water supplies through actions
such as damming the Mekong River. Combining the impacts of climate change with
a rapidly expanding urban population in coastal regions and deltas could
dramatically escalate the challenges for decision makers in the next few years. These
decisions will have a direct impact on the outcomes for these communities now and
in the foreseeable future.
It is estimated that by 2050 we will see a global population of 10 billion with an
estimated 65 percent of that population living in cities. To accommodate these extra
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three billion people, we need to build the equivalent of one new city to support one
million people every five days in the first half of the 21st century. Importantly,
“cities are major contributors to global carbon emissions, accounting for 75 percent
of world final energy use and 76 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.”
Given existing trends, the majority of the increased urban population will be
accommodated through the expansion of current cities. Asian megacities are already
a prominent feature of the landscape, with more than 10 having 20 million or more
people in their greater urban areas, including Tokyo (37 million), Jakarta (30
million), Seoul (24 million), Karachi (22 million), Shanghai (23 million), Manila (24
million), Delhi (25 million), Beijing (21 million), Guangzhou (20 million), Kyoto (20
million) and Mumbai (18 million). Planning for climate change will be critical to
minimize the risk to these areas.
However, it is important to remember that more than half of the global population
will live in urban centers of less than half a million people. The diseconomies of
joined-up megacities may well reach tipping points that make smaller centers more
viable and attractive. Responses to climate change will therefore need to be
cognizant of scale, with sustainable solutions across the hierarchy of urban
settlements — from gigantic cities to towns and villages.
A warmer Asian climate will bring many challenges, not the least being — if it goes
unchecked — the increasing scarcity of water and food. The impact of flooding on
coastal lands is dramatic. The Asian Development Bank estimates that
approximately 12 million people will be at risk in 23 cities in East Asia alone from
coastal inundation. Another ADB study estimates that “more than 100 million
hectares of arable land” will be affected by sea-level rise in Bangladesh alone.
Heat, drought, dust and fire will have impacts inland and the “brown Asian cloud
that already affects millions” will bring a new dimension to the health impacts of
climate change. In a special climate and health edition of the medical journal The
Lancet last year, it was concluded that: “The effects of climate change are being felt
today, and future projections represent an unacceptably high and potentially
catastrophic risk to human health.” The report further concludes that the key future
threats to communities include “air pollution, the spread of disease vectors, food
insecurity and under-nutrition, displacement and mental ill health.” A separate
report in The Lancet on planetary health highlights that “protection of peatlands in
Indonesia from degradation and burning would reduce smoke concentrations in
Palembang and Singapore by more than 90 percent, and by 80 percent for equatorial
Climate migration will also be a massive global challenge. The impacts of climate
change, particularly flooding of coastal megacities, will result in migration due to
climate change affecting surrounding nations, including Australasia.
The range of climate impacts throughout Asia over the next 20 years highlights the
importance of an integrated approach to action. Building on the Paris Agreement
and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, implementation will have significant
implications for governance. With some cities now larger than nation states,
incorporating their voice in future decision-making and implementation will be
critical. Equally, city-regions will highlight the critical issues of water and food,
including the impact of a warmer environment on surrounding rural regions and
natural ecosystems. Drought will be a major consideration.
A MORE SUSTAINABLE FUTURE FOR ASIA
There is every possibility and opportunity for a greener and fairer future for Asia.
The level of greenhouse gas emissions will depend on global co-operation by every
nation, with the extent of the impact moderated by co-ordinated actions. As the IPCC
4 report on Asia concludes:
Mainstreaming sustainable development policies and the inclusion of climate
proofing concepts in national development initiatives are likely to reduce pressure
on national resources and improve the management of risk.
So there are clear choices to be made. One path is to remain undeterred by expert
advice on global warming and the impact of climate change and continue with
business as usual. Strong vested interests that benefit from present conditions will
favor and lobby for this outcome. This is the high-risk strategy that will do the most
damage. Fortunately, it is an unlikely scenario due to a succession of global
agreements and events over the past five years, notably during 2015 with the Paris
Agreement and the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The second path is seen in political statements by leaders embracing the renewable
energy revolution, innovation in green growth and smart infrastructure typified by
some leading examples in Asian cities, which include Seoul (transport), Shanghai
(renewable energy) and New Delhi (recycling waste).
The third path is transformation that will minimize risk to communities from
already “locked in” climate change. The key to this will be strategies that see all levels
of government working together with civil society on adaptation targeted to specific
impacts on local communities. Mainstreaming decision-making that includes
planning for the impacts of climate change will enable a gradual transition, avoiding
the shocks that will come with no action. Integrated national actions supporting
subnational initiatives will enable and empower local implementation.
Coastal retreat, investment in smart infrastructure including rapid public transit,
renewable energy, more green spaces and innovation in water and food security will
be critical steps to a more sustainable climate future in Asia. Inland and rural
communities deserve more consideration. While many of these strategies apply
globally, the difference for Asia is the scale and pace of change. Concurrently
reducing emissions and adapting to a changing climate will provide the most
Yes there will be extreme events, storms, shortages, unequal impacts and ill health.
But ultimately, national and global leadership will be fundamental in responding to
these changes. Presidents Xi and Obama have provided that there is a way forward.
At the city level, global networks such as C40 and ICLEI demonstrate that through
co-operation and sharing of knowledge and experience, the risks of climate change
can be mitigated with innovation, green growth and political commitment. In reality,
acting on climate change now is the only real way forward for a sustainable future in
Barbara Norman is Foundation Chair, Urban & Regional Planning, and Director,
Canberra Urban & Regional Futures, at the University of Canberra, Australia. She
can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter:
ProfBarbaraN. See also www.curf.com.au
1 Hansen, James, “Compromise Won’t Fix Global Warming,” Newsweek, Dec. 3. 2009.
2 Landler, Mark and Perlez, Jane, “Rare Harmony as China and US Commit to Climate Deal,” New York Times, Sept. 3,
3 “Mayors gather in Seoul, raising ambitions of the Paris Agreement,” Local Governments for Sustainability, July 7,
4 Norman, Barbara, et al, “Urban Sustainability: Joining the Dots between Planning, Science, and Community,” Voices
for Mother Earth, Aug. 9, 2016. http://voicesmotherearth.blogspot.co.id/2016/08/urban-sustainability-joining-dots.html?
5 Norman, Barbara, et al, “Cities in Future Earth: a summary of key considerations,” Australian Academy of Science,
Dec. 15, 2014. www.science.org.au/news-and-events/events/third-australian-earth-system-outlook-conference/cities-
6 Ba, Xuemei, et al, “Navigating through the Urban Age: Principles and Innovations,” Solutions, Vol. 7, No. 3, May 2016.
7 Economics of Climate Change in East Asia, Asian Development Bank, October 2013.
8 Shrestha, Ram Manohar, et al, “Economics of Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in South Asia,” Asian
Development Bank, December 2012. www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/30186/economics-reducing-ghg-
9 The Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, “Health and climate change: policy responses to protect
public health,” The Lancet, Nov. 7, 2015. www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(15)60854-6.pdf
10 The Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on Planetary Health, “Safeguarding human health in the
Anthropocene epoch,” The Lancet, Nov: 14, 2015. www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(15)60901-
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