Climate action urgency growing
Summertime has arrived in this part of the world, with temperatures rising considerably although we are not yet in April, normally the hottest month in Thailand.
I just returned from an island in the eastern province of Trat. The night I arrived, a summer thunderstorm caused an island-wide blackout that lasted through the following day and into the day after that. Thankfully, the resort where I stayed has its own generator, so we had power and internet, on and off though.
But I was warned that if heavy rain returned the next day, our flight back to Bangkok on a small private plane might be delayed. Luckily, the weather was fair on our departure day, and we had no problem getting a speedboat to the mainland to catch our flight.
Extreme weather is affecting more people's lives more frequently these days. From late February to early this month, Queensland and New South Wales in Australia were hit by extreme flooding and "rain bombs" -- unusual events that occur when the air hits the ground with such force that it creates tornado-strength winds. Each state received more than a year's worth of rainfall in a week. Queensland saw its worst flooding since 2011.
Here in Thailand, dry conditions are the main worry. The Agriculture Ministry has launched a nationwide rainmaking operation to ease water scarcity for farmers and prevent forest fires. The lower Mekong River, meanwhile, is entering its fourth year of drought with low rainfall, climate change and dams producing the worst conditions in more than 60 years. That threatens the livelihoods of up to 70 million people.
In Indonesia, Jakarta is sinking faster than any other major city in the world, demonstrating how climate change is making more places uninhabitable. With an estimated one-third of the city expected to be submerged in the coming decades -- in part because of the rising Java Sea -- the Indonesian government is planning to move the capital 2,000 kilometres northeast to the island of Borneo, relocating as many as 1.5 million civil servants.
Southeast Asia has experienced a considerable increase in climate-related events including floods, extreme temperatures, droughts, landslides, storms and wildfires, in recent decades.
Five Southeast Asian countries -- Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia -- rank among the 20 most vulnerable countries to climate disasters globally. Over the last two decades they have experienced thousands of fatalities, with millions of people affected and billions of US dollars in damages.
Those costs will continue to rise with more intense cyclones and higher flood levels, while millions more people could be displaced, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The IPCC report, published by the United Nations this month, projects that as many as 40 million people in South Asia may be forced to move over the next 30 years because of a lack of water, crop failure, storm surges and other disasters. Globally, a staggering 143 million people will likely be uprooted by rising seas, drought, searing temperatures and other climate catastrophes.
The good news is that the issue has come to weigh heavily on the minds of the world's business leaders, who are taking steps to fight climate change. However, there is still a disconnect between ambition and action. Leaders of organisations are struggling to embed climate considerations into their cultures and strategies to bring about meaningful transformation.
Among the countries taking action, Singapore is at the forefront. One of 80-odd countries that have set net-zero targets, Singapore aims to halve peak emissions from 65 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent to 33 million by 2050, then achieve net-zero emissions "as soon as viable" in the second half of the century. That is a significant improvement from its 2020 commitment.
A carbon tax will be a major enabler. Singapore last month announced an increase in the tax rate from S$5 per tonne of CO2 equivalent to S$25, the highest in Asia, in 2024.
The consequence of inaction is inevitable. According to the IPCC, the world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C. Even temporarily exceeding this level will result in additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible.
Climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our well-being and a healthy planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.
Acting Asia Focus Editor
Acting Asia Focus Editor