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Asia set to become biggest climate change driver

Jun 16, 2009 - Teresa Cerojano - The Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines - Asia's share of global greenhouse gas emissions could rise to more than 40 percent by 2030, making it the world's main driver of climate change, experts warned Tuesday.

The most populous continent with the fastest-growing economies in China and India already accounts for a third of world emissions of gases blamed for warming weather, including carbon dioxide, Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda told a conference in Manila.

Its share of discharges from energy use has tripled over the past 30 years, he said.

Asia also stands out as the most vulnerable region to climate change.

In addition to water shortages, crop yields in Central and South Asia could drop by 30 percent by 2050, and coastal cities including Bangkok, Jakarta, Karachi, Manila, Mumbai and Shanghai will be vulnerable to flooding or damage from unpredictable weather patterns, the ADB said.

Within this century, people living in coastal Bangladesh, Maldives and Tuvalu in the southwest Pacific may be forced to flee because of rising sea levels, the Manila-based lender said.

"Climate change has this characteristic of exacerbating the existing stress in a region ... which is afflicted by poverty and a lack of infrastructure," said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Climate scientists have urged rich countries to reduce emissions by between 25 percent and 40 percent by 2020 to avoid the worst effects of warming.

They say warming weather will lead to widespread droughts, floods, higher sea levels and worsening storms.

Even a 3.6-degree Fahrenheit (2-degree Celsius) temperature rise could subject up to 2 billion people to water shortages by 2050 and threaten extinction for 20 percent to 30 percent of the world's species, according to a 2007 report by the intergovernmental panel, a U.N. network of 2,000 scientists.

Kuroda said it was imperative to step up efforts to put the region on a path of low-carbon growth.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a video address to the conference, called on Asian countries to help achieve a new global warming agreement in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December. Ban said he wants to see an "ambitious, comprehensive and fair" deal.

U.N. climate delegates in Bonn completed a draft Friday of a new agreement containing gaps and competing ideas that await decisions by political leaders.

The rift more clearly exposed differences between industrial and emerging nations - and within those blocs - on the obligations of the 192 countries involved in the talks to control greenhouse gases.

The U.S. and China are the largest emitters, accounting for about half the world's carbon emissions. But neither country was part of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which called on 37 countries to cut carbon emissions by a total of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Meanwhile, about 30 activists criticized the ADB for continuing to support coal-energy projects they say pollute the environment and contribute to climate change.

ADB officials say the bank funds very few coal power plants, which for some developing countries are a cheap energy source.

Kuroda said the ADB provided nearly $1.7 billion last year for projects with clean energy components like wind power in China and India, exceeding its $1 billion target.