Climate change will slash up to 9% off the South Asian economy every year by the end of this century if the world continues on its current fossil-fuel intensive path. The human and financial toll could be even higher if the damage from floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events is included.
A groundbreaking report from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) titled Assessing the Costs of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia, predicts that by 2050, the collective economy of six countries—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka—will lose an average 1.8% of its annual gross domestic product, rising to 8.8% by 2100. The forecast assumes a 4.6°C rise in global temperatures, but given the uncertainties of climate change, there is a slight chance that annual losses will rise to as high as 24% by 2100.
“South Asia’s economy is under serious threat and the lives and livelihoods of millions of South Asians inhabiting the region’s many mountains, deltas, and atolls are on a knife edge,” said Bindu Lohani, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development. “Countries must respond individually and collectively to cope with rising sea levels, disrupted water, food, and energy supply and increased disease.”
The Maldives and Nepal would be the hardest hit, losing up to 12.6% and 9.9% of their economies, respectively, every year, by 2100. Meanwhile, Bangladesh would lose 9.4%, India 8.7%, Bhutan 6.6%, and Sri Lanka 6.5%.
The impact and cost of climate change in South Asia will depend largely on how the global community tackles the issue, according to the report. If the world continues on its current path, South Asia will need to spend at least $73 billion, or an average of 0.86% of its GDP every year between now and 2100 to adapt to climate change damage.
On the other hand, if countries around the world act together to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2°C under the so-called Copenhagen-Cancun agreement, then South Asia’s economy would only be reduced by 1.3% annually by 2050 and 2.5% by 2100, and the cost of shielding itself from the worst of the impacts would be nearly halved to around $40.6 billion, or 0.48% of GDP.
Almost all areas of South Asia will suffer as temperatures rise. While farmers in some parts of the region may benefit from warmer weather, overall the impact on agriculture will be negative. Annual rice production could increase by as much as 16% in Nepal’s hills and mountains by 2080, but drop as much as 23% in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Sri Lanka by that time.
A 1-meter rise in sea levels, inundating coastlines, would affect 95 million people and another 100 million when there are storm surges. Changes in precipitation will make it harder to meet energy and water needs, with India’s water shortfall forecast to hit 400 billion m3 by the 2050s. They will also bring increased cases of dengue and diarrhea.
Many South Asian nations have already developed measures to deal with climate change. These need to become a core element of national development plans that are well- coordinated across government departments and with the private sector, civil society and others, the report says. But countries also need to work better together to spur critical investment in adaptation and mitigation measures and share knowledge and new ideas.