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UN Sounds Alarm on Asia’s Climate Crisis

Asia's Climate Crisis

Asia was the global region hit hardest by climate change, extreme weather and water-related hazards last year, the United Nations weather agency said Tuesday, detailing a litany of deaths and destruction caused by record heat, drought and floods exacerbated by rising temperatures.

In its annual state of the climate report for Asia, the World Meteorological Organization painted a dire picture of the manifest effects of climate change in 2023 across a region that’s home to 60% of the world’s population. From blistering heat waves and droughts to devastating floods and glacial melt, evidence of a warming world grew harder to ignore.

“Many countries in the region experienced their hottest year on record in 2023, along with a barrage of extreme conditions,” said WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo. “The report’s conclusions are sobering: climate change exacerbated the frequency and severity of such events.”

Asia has been warming faster than the global average, with 2023 temperatures nearly 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above 1961-90 levels, the report said. Heat records tumbled from western Siberia and Central Asia to eastern China and Japan, which had its hottest summer on record.

A total of 79 climate, weather and water-related disasters were reported in Asia last year, with floods and storms accounting for over 80% of the hazards and over 2,000 deaths. Floods were the leading cause of death, by far.

In one striking example, Hong Kong was pounded by 158.1 millimeters (6.2 inches) of rainfall in just one hour on Sept. 7 as a typhoon struck — the territory’s highest hourly total since 1884.

While flooding caused most of the direct deaths and destruction regionally, the impacts of heat likewise proved severe. Drought parched areas from southwest China to parts of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Rising temperatures caused most of Asia’s mountain glaciers to continue shrinking at a significant rate.

“The heat was really the big menace in many areas,” said WMO scientist Julien Grimault, who led the report.

Precipitation was below normal in the Himalayas and Hindu Kush ranges, adding to glacial melt. In China’s drought-hit Sichuan province, dry conditions in nearly every month strained agriculture and electricity supplies as hydropower output fell, the report said.

In neighboring regions like the Arctic, Greenland and other areas, ice melt has helped drive up global sea levels, adding to future flood risks. Summer heat also spawned wildfires in Siberia and elsewhere.

With climate change causing a rise in intensity and frequency of such disasters, the WMO called for urgent investment in preparations like early warning systems and other measures to build resilience. Climate research has shown that Asia faces a heightened risk compared to other regions from unchecked global warming.

Recent weeks have brought sobering examples of Asia’s climate vulnerability, with over 100,000 evacuated by floods in southern China and a state of emergency declared in some areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan after flash floods killed at least 100 people.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the evolving climate is not merely an option, but a fundamental necessity,” Saulo said. “It is imperative that our actions and strategies mirror the urgency of these times.”