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Rising ocean levels put Asia at ris

The Nation (29 November 1997)
Rising ocean levels put Asia at risk

KYOTO, Japan -- Rising ocean levels threaten to wreak havoc on coastal
regions and the great deltas of Southeast Asia, including Thailand, while
the impact of global warming on Asia's land masses is still uncertain,
experts warned ahead of a UN climate conference next week. 

For the 16 countries from Singapore to India that comprise tropical Asia,
the warming effects ''will add to other stresses such as rapid
urbanisation, industrialisation and economic development'', said the
report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes (IPCC). 

This, it said, ''will contribute to unsustainable exploitation of natural
resources, increased pollution, land degradation and other environmental

The report -- released in advance of a meeting of 150 nations here
starting on Monday to agree on a single, binding plan to reduce emissions
of gases linked to global warming -- said rising sea levels and
temperatures will bring more frequent and more serious flooding to
coastal and delta regions. 

Bangladesh, often a magnet for catastrophe, will once again be in harm's
way, warned the report, which speculated that vast inhabited areas of
that country could be totally submerged, displacing tens of millions. 

The coasts of Burma, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and
Malaysia are similarly threatened, the report said. 

Scientists have warned that carbon dioxide, a byproduct of burning fossil
fuels, is the most common of these ''greenhouse'' gases, which trap heat
in the atmosphere. Without control of these emissions, rising atmospheric
temperatures will raise ocean levels and disrupt the global climate. 

The effects of global warming on central Asia's hydrological systems will
be widespread, the report said. 

The Himalayan glaciers, already shrinking, will continue to partially
melt. Snow will become seasonal, no longer falling all year round. 

''The Himalayas have a critical role in the provision of water to
continental monsoon Asia,'' said the report. ''Increased temperatures and
increased seasonal variability in precipitation are expected to result in
increased recession of glaciers and increasing danger from glacial lake
outburst floods. 

A marked reduction in the average flow of snow-fed rivers would have
''major impacts on hydropower generation, urban water supply, and
agriculture'', it added. 

Further south, any change in the duration of the monsoon season will
increase the risk of storms and catastrophic flooding, as was the case in
1995 on the east coast of Malaysia, said the IPCC. 

The situation is different in temperate Asia -- Japan, China, the Korean
Peninsula and Russian Siberia. 

Although the IPCC experts spoke of shrinking tundra and mountain
glaciers, diminishing forests and worsening water shortages, they also
cautioned that their evaluations were uncertain, particularly in China
where global warming could have positive as well as negative effects on

Farm production could increase in northern Siberia while falling in the
southwest, said the report. 

In Japan, a one metre rise in sea level would threaten coastal regions
where 50 per cent of Japan's industry is concentrated, including Tokyo,
Osaka and Nagoya. 

Japan's remaining beaches would be flooded, but the impact on the
country's deltas was uncertain, a high variable linked with the impact of
human activity in those regions, the report said. 

The effects of climate changes on the Asian monsoon and the phenomenon of
El Nino were some of the major uncertainties the IPCC study faced, said
the report, because of the difficulty in drawing models of hydrological