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Climate change: Asia's mega-deltas in frontline from flood risk

by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) Dec 4, 2007
Asia's massive delta cities have most to fear from catastrophic storm floods driven by climate change, according to an OECD report published here on Tuesday.

Of 136 port cities assessed around the world for their exposure to once-in-a-century coastal flooding, 38 percent are in Asia and 27 percent are located in deltas, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said.

Publication of the report coincided with an 11-day UN conference in Bali, Indonesia, aimed at shaping a long-term response to the climate peril.

Today, around 40 million people around the world are exposed to coastal flooding in large port cities, according to the report.

The top 10 cities most at risk, in terms of exposed population, are Mumbai, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Miami, Ho Chi Minh City, Kolkata, Greater New York, Osaka-Kobe, Alexandria and New Orleans.

The total value of assets exposed in the 136 port cities analysed is 3,000 billion (three trillion) dollars -- or around five percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2005, it says.

Miami, Greater New York, New Orleans, Osaka-Kobe, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Nagoya, Tampa-St. Petersburg (Florida) and Virginia Beach (Virginia) are the most valuable pieces of real estate at risk.

By the 2070s, the total population exposed could more than triple, to around 150 million people.

Of the "Top 10" most exposed coastal cities in 2070, nine are in Asia.

The 10 are: Kolkata, Mumbai, Dhaka, Guangzhou, Ho Chi Minh City, Shanghai, Bangkok, Rangoon, Miami and Haiphong (Vietnam).

The total value of assets exposed by the 136 cities in the 2070s is put at 35 trillion dollars, or nine percent of projected global annual GDP.

Ranked according to assets exposed to flooding, the 2070 list is headed by Miami, Guangzhou, Greater New York, Kolkata, Shanghai, Mumbai, Tianjin (China), Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok.

"Climate change is already happening, and concerted action is needed now to prevent its worst impacts," said OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria, noting the December 3-14 Bali meeting.

"A range of economic policy options is available and political commitment is needed to implement them,"

The report was authored by OECD experts working with scientists from Britain's University of Southampton, the US company Risk Management Solutions and France's Meteo-France and Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research (CIRED).

Their assessment projects the damage that would be caused by an extreme but very rare weather event -- a combination of storm surge and high winds that, in purely statistical terms, occurs once a century.

The exposure rises in the 2070s because of coastal subsidence and further population growth in these port cities, and the risk increases due to climate change, which will boost sea levels and is likely to make storms more powerful.

In its estimate, the OECD assumes that sea levels will rise 0.5 metres (19.7 inches), as a result of thermal expansion (when water warms, it expands) as well as from melting ice sheets.

In the first volume of a triple report on global warming, published in February, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said sea levels would climb between 18 and 59 centimetres (7.2 and 23.2 inches) by 2100.

But in a summary of the overall report, issued in Valencia, Spain, last month, it said it could no longer put an upper limit on this projection because of uncertainties about ice-sheet loss.

The OECD report does not factor in the effectiveness of flood defences in its calculations, saying that exposure to a flood "does not necessarily translate into impact."

But it notes that cities in rich northern countries have -- and are more likely to have in the future -- much better protection than cities in poor tropical countries, where the flood risk from cyclones is greatest.

"London, Tokyo and Amsterdam are protected to better than the one-in-1,000-year standard, while many developing countries have far lower standards, if formal flood defences exist at all," the report said.

earlier related report
After cyclone tragedy, poor nations plead for help
Three weeks after a cyclone left thousands dead, Bangladesh joined other poor nations Tuesday to warn that more disasters lay ahead unless the world acts quickly on climate change.

Poor countries seized the day at an international climate conference to ask for billions of dollars in assistance, as global relief group Oxfam said the funds currently available to address the crisis were an "insult".

Cyclone Sidr killed at least 3,400 people in Bangladesh last month and left hundreds more missing -- and one of the country's leading scholars said global warming was to blame.

"It is not that it will happen -- Bangladesh is already facing these problems," said Mozaharul Alam, a research fellow from the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies.

"What we are experiencing in Bangladesh is exactly what the climate change scientists are predicting," Alam said.

Bangladesh is enduring worsening droughts, floods and salt getting into its fresh water supplies, while last month's cyclone was of unprecedented size, he told AFP.

"The aerial coverage was almost double the size of Bangladesh, which Bangladesh has never faced before," he said. "So these are the types of changes that we are observing now."

Alam was among other representatives of poor nations who said any new deal hammered out by nations here to combat global warming must give them more money.

"Financially we do not have enough to adapt to the impact," said Thy Sum, from Cambodia's Climate Change Office.

"We need to call on the rich countries to provide meaningful financial and technical support to cope with climate change."

A landmark paper by the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said earlier this year that while industrialised countries are largely to blame for global warming, least developed nations suffer most.

The group of scientists warned that damage to the Earth's weather systems this century will doom poor countries to worse hunger, water stress and damage from violent storms, droughts and floods.

Oxfam said current levels of aid to poor nations for climate change were an insult, with 50 billion dollars per year needed.

"We believe the rich and the most polluting countries should pay the vast share of that money," said Oxfam campaigner Charlotte Sterrett.

For Ursula Rakova, an activist from the low-lying Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea, the need is immediate.

Rising sea levels are forcing island residents out of their homes and onto the mainland -- where food, medicine and education need to be paid for.

"Our atolls are shrinking, the population is getting bigger. We don't have any land anymore," she said.

Delegates attending the Bali conference aim to agree on an agenda for negotiations for a new pact to come into effect when the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

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