BANGKOK – The Asia-Pacific region loses around $675 billion – or 2.4 percent of its GDP – annually due to natural disasters that have become more devastating, partially due to climate change, representatives of the United Nations said on Wednesday at the start of the Asia-Pacific Climate Week 2019 in Bangkok.
The gathering is aimed at raising global interest and action on environmental issues ahead of the Climate Action Summit in New York in September, and the UN Climate Change Conference, to be held in Chile in December.
Armida Alisjahbana, the executive secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), told EFE that natural disasters in the region included cyclones in the Pacific islands, droughts and floods in Southeast and South Asia and dust storms in Central Asia.
In the face of extreme natural events, Alisjahbana highlighted UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ appeal that countries all over the world should stop the construction of coal-fired power plants within the next year.
“It is still a challenge, but also an opportunity,” the UN official said, referring to the potential economic benefits of investing in renewable energy sources.
In a press conference, ESCAP Deputy General Secretary Kaveh Zahedi said events such as heat waves, droughts and cyclones had been recently described as reaching unprecedented proportions due to possible effects of climate change.
Zahedi warned that the emission of greenhouse gases in Asia-Pacific had still not reached its highest point and countries such as China and India continue to depend on coal to a large extent despite increasing investment in renewable energy.
He said countries of the region should stop subsidizing fossil fuels, adding that in many cases, energy production from clean sources was becoming cheaper and could become more economical than coal or oil in some cases.
No UN representative has been able to predict if countries in the Asia Pacific would stop building coal-fired power plants by 2020, although there are indications that they would continue to use coal.
In a report last year, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) flagged the need of taking “urgent and unprecedented” action to limit the Earth’s temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels.
The scientists said that it was both economically and technically possible to meet the goal and avoid global warming, warning that it was critical to keep the global temperature increase below two degrees.
Even a 1.5-degree increase is predicted to have irremediable consequences, such as increasing number of droughts in the Mediterranean and coastal flooding in Southeast Asia, which would negatively affect ecosystems and crops and might pose risks to the food security of some regions.