Bangkok Post Editorial: Waking up to climate change

Bangkok Post

The latest report on climate change by the Asian Development Bank deserves more than the usual one-day media attention that most such studies rightly receive. It may have a ponderous title, but The Economics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia: A Regional Review is not just a quick shot across the bow of this problem. Neither the alarmists nor those in denial will find much to back up their shrill arguments in this reasonable and moderate book.

For once, we have a usable plan of action that is packed with good sense, almost certain to help the country and our neighbours no matter how climate evolves in coming decades.

This report is also something of a departure for the ADB. The bank, located in Manila, has been in recent years an almost invisible - if often dependable - source of loans for funding development projects. A series of high-profile controversies, such as forced relocations of Lao people for dams, has seen the bank pull back from the public spotlight. The climate report is certain to stimulate debate. The 15-month study, funded by the British government with help from Thailand, is readable as well as practical, and shows that bureaucratic organisations can serve the public if they try hard enough.

In addition, the authors of the study have tried to avoid major controversy which interferes with their useful, even mundane recommendations. "Climate change" has of course replaced the less credible "global warming".

Instead of getting bogged down in details of what the future might hold - and no one knows for a certainty - the ADB report simply begins with: "Climate change will affect everyone but developing countries will be hit hardest, soonest and have the least capacity to respond."

The study focuses on Thailand and four important neighbours - Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines - which, it says forthrightly, have done too little to mitigate, study or even face up to the future in a different world. The authors are on solid ground here, and this is where the study deserves careful attention, reasonable debate and implementation.

The ADB has distilled a lot of useful advice into the 220-odd pages of its report. It has done a lot of the hard work and backgrounding of policies and improvements that will improve daily life as well as prepare the country for even the worst-case scenario.

At the national and inter-provincial level, for example, the report is right on the mark that Thailand and other countries need far better water management and irrigation systems. The wastage of this precious resource is astounding. Millions of gallons of water seep out of the Bangkok pipe system every year alone, and creaking, 20th century irrigation systems in the rice-growing provinces should be upgraded to more modern methods regardless of what the future climate may be.

Consumers should be buying more energy-efficient electrical appliances, and government should reward such thrift with tax breaks and other incentives. The country can save energy by building more effective power plants, while Thai people can save energy at home with better light bulbs.

All of these and dozens of other suggestions are win-win projects. Many argue that preparations for climate change are too expensive because no one can accurately predict the future.

The ADB study deserves attention because it makes the case that refusal to face the future is a proposition where everyone will lose.