Impact of climate change on South Asia


Temperatures are already rising and are expected to continue to rise in South Asia, thus making varied impacts in different countries. For Nepal it means that the nation may see 10 per cent GDP loss from glacier melts, climate extremes, according to Asian Development Bank (ADB) climate and economics report for South Asia.

“The number and frequency of extreme events have been increasing in the region,” pointed out Preety Bhandari, Director, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management Division, ADB in an interaction programme held for participants of a press tour recently in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The South Asian nations would be affected by extreme weather events like landslides, floods et cetera as well as a reduced energy production from hydro-power, as per Bhandari.

If the current global behaviour is not changed, Nepal would see economic losses equivalent to up to 2.2 per cent of annual GDP by 2050 widening to 9.9 per cent by the end of the century. But if mitigation and adaptation steps are taken, the damage could be limited to around 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2100.

Nepal’s agriculture — the major sector of the nation’s economy that employs 66 per cent of the total population and contributes about 39 per cent to the nation’s GDP — depends on water sourced from snow, ice and glacial melt. Though higher temperatures and carbon dioxide levels are projected to cause an increase in the rice production in the colder hills and mountains of Nepal by as much as 16 per cent by 2080, “over time, glacial retreat and uncertainty about the summer monsoon’s start and end dates will reduce crop yields and cause food insecurity”, mentions the ADB assessment.

Even low-lying Bangladesh could suffer annual losses up to nine per cent of its economy by the end of this century. Nonetheless, there is a need to “understand our vulnerabilities” while talking about the adverse impacts of climate change, as per Kamal Uddin Ahmed, Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Bangladesh.

“Making right climate policies but without slowing down the economic growth” is the need of the hour as emphasised by Ahmed.

The six countries of South Asia — Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, India and Sri Lanka — will see an average economic loss of 1.8 per cent in their collective GDP every year by 2050, rising sharply to 8.8 per cent in 2100 as per the analysis.

The “1.5 billion people of South Asia are living in poverty without capacity to cope with the impacts of climate change” as per Bhandari.

While helping this community cope with climate change, adaptation measures are a must in South Asia. But the cost of climate change adaptation in this region largely depends on how the global community tackles the issue — ADB states that South Asia need $ 73 billion every year between now and 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if the current trend of climate change continues. However, if the rise in global temperatures is kept below 2.5 degrees Celsius, the cost for South Asia to shield itself from those impacts would be around $40.6 billion. While Maldives would be one of the hardest hit losing up to 12.6 per cent of its economy every year by 2100, India, Bhutan and Sri Lanka would lose 8.7 per cent, 6.6 per cent and 6.5 per cent respectively.

Things to know about climate change in South Asia


  • A warming trend of about 0.75 degree Celsius has been observed in annual mean temperatures in South Asia over the past century
  • Between 1990 and 2008, over 750 million people in South Asia were affected by at least one natural disaster, resulting in almost 230,000 deaths
  • The livelihoods of more than 200 million people in Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives and Sri Lanka are threatened by rapid loss of snow cover in the Himalayas and rising sea levels
  • Without global action on climate change, temperatures may rise by 4.6 degree Celsius. The collective economy of six countries — Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka — could shrink by up to 1.8 per cent every year by 2050 and 8.8 per cent by 2100, on average
  • If the global community succeeds in keeping the mean temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius or less under the Copenhgen-Cancun agreement, South Asia’s economy would, on average, only be reduced by 1.3 per cent annually by 2050 and by 2.5 per cent by 2100
  • Under the mean temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius or less scenario, annual adaptation costs for South Asia would be on average 0.36 per cent of gross domestic product, or $ 31 billion, by 2050 and 0.48 per cent of GDP or $ 41 billion by 2100
  • While greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in South Asia have historically been low, the high rate of urbanisation is causing energy consumption and fossil fuel use to grow rapidly
  • Unless clean technologies are deployed, energy-related GHG emissions from Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives and Sri Lanka will rise from about 58 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2005 to about 245 million in 2030, largely due to rising energy consumption by industry and transport
  • Cities in South Asia are suffering from the growing problem of solid waste disposal. Total annual GHG emission from Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Sri Lanka were estimated to reach 106 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2005 and 606 million tons by 2030
  • Introducing green technologies that only cost up to $10 per ton of GHG emissions could cut 20 per cent of 2020’s projected energy-related annual emissions
  • Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka provide ideal climatic conditions for organic decomposition of waste matter that generates methane gas, which can be converted to clean energy
  • Introducing a carbon tax in Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives and Sri Lanka could help these countries shift toward clean, renewable sources and prevent the release of almost one billion tons of energy-related GHGs between now and 2030

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