The Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Monday urged countries in Southeast Asia to take early action against climate change, whose combined damage is expected even worse than the current financial crisis.
In its latest study, titled The Economics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia, the Manila-based bank said that Southeast Asia -- one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change -- faces a poorer future unless global warming is controlled.
If the world continues with "business as usual," Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam could experience combined damage equivalent to more than 6 percent of their countries' gross domestic products every year by the end of this century, dwarfing the costs of the current financial crisis, according to the study.
Rice production will dramatically decline because of climate change, threatening food security. Rising sea levels will force the relocation of millions living in coastal communities and islands, and more people will die from thermal stress, malaria, dengue and other diseases, the ADB said.
"Climate change seriously threatens Southeast Asia's families, food supplies and financial prosperity, and regrettably the worst is yet to come," said Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, ADB's Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development.
"With the world mired in the current financial crisis, climate change risks being pushed down the policy agenda," she said, adding that if Southeast Asian nations delay action on climate change, their economies and people will ultimately suffer.
The report says that Southeast Asian nations should address the dual threats of climate change and the global financial crisis by introducing green stimulus programs -- as part of larger stimulus packages -- that can simultaneously strengthen economies, create jobs, reduce poverty, protect vulnerable communities and lower emissions.
There are a series of cost-effective measures that can help countries protect themselves from the worst effects of climate change, including improving water management, enhancing irrigation systems, introducing new crop varieties, safeguarding forests and supporting the construction of protective sea walls, according to the study.
It says that there are "win-win" mitigation options in the energy sector -- particularly more efficient power plants, more energy-efficient lighting, appliances and industrial equipment, and cleaner transportation -- that could allow Southeast Asian nations to mitigate carbon emissions up to 40 percent by 2020 at a negative net cost.
"Countries have everything to gain and nothing to lose by investing in these low-cost and no-cost adaptation and mitigation measures," Schaefer-Preuss said.
Although Southeast Asian countries have adopted wide-ranging measures to counter the harsh impacts of climate change, they could do more to tap the broad array of global and regional initiatives that offer funding, technology and other support for countering climate threats, says the study.
At the same time, many climate challenges could be more effectively countered through closer regional cooperation, particularly in the areas of water-basin management, shared marine ecosystems, extreme weather events and the containment of infectious diseases, said the bank.